The magazine is owned by Southern African Fly Fishing Magazine (Pty) Ltd which is in turn owned and run by fly fishers.
The magazine started life as the Journal of the Federation of Southern African Flyfishers (FOSAF) and while it is now an independent entity it remains FOSAF’s official journal. This longstanding association speaks to the magazine’s ethos which is to be a fly fishing community voice rather than just a fly fishing industry one.
The magazine has a Southern African focus and thus will speak mainly of experiences, venues, techniques, equipment, environmental issues, clubs and associations from this region. It will do this in a way that is approachable, familiar and in the preferred languages of our contributors and readers.
This community focus is reflected in the editorial and ownership structures of the magazine. Ian Cox, Andrew Mather and Andrew Savides are all avid fly fishers with deep roots in the fly fishing community. They are all also active in the social media space which dominates so many fly fishing related discourse these days and are well equipped to talk into and from that space.
The editorial team are all active fly fishers who are involved in the structures underpinning fly fishing in South Africa. They are all fly tyers and have all made at least one bamboo fly rod. They are all enthusiastic writers whose work is frequently published in South Africa’s fly tying magazines.
The history of the magazine and FOSAF are closely linked. FOSAF’s started in 1986 in response to Cape Nature’s threat to remove trout from the streams of Western Cape. It has since then established itself as the principle lobbyist of fly fishing related issues in South Africa’s in the government space. Thus FOSAF has become actively involved, sometimes taking a leadership role, in preventing mining in the trout waters of Mpumalanga, defending trout against government’s War on Trout, promoting yellowfish research through its Yellowfish Working Group (YWG), fighting against the pollution of the Vaal River, encouraging river clean up and restoration projects and engaging in angler education and youth capacity building. This work tends to be taken for granted, perhaps because so much is done behind the scenes or it is done by volunteers. Most fly anglers support FOSAF but few feel the need to translate that support into signing up and paying the membership fee. We at Southern African Fly Fishing would like to help change that.
JOIN FOSAF. It is the right thing to do!
FOSAF started in 1986 and the first edition of the magazine was published in the winter of 1987 as a combination of an independent magazine and FOSAF’s official journal. The retail price was R3.50 but it was not widely distributed through retail outlets which meant that it was preferable to subscribe to the magazine. Subscribers paid R14.00 for four issues, but an additional R6.00 bought you an annual membership of FOSAF as well.
The magazine was the brainchild of Mark and Ronald Basel along with Ronnie Brett who realised that both FOSAF and Southern African flyfishing community needed a voice. They roped in Tom Sutcliffe as a partner after the publication of the first issue but Tom gave his share in the business to FOSAF. Thus began the original association between FOSAF and the Flyfishing magazine.
The magazine was on the skinny side back then, it ran to some 30 or so pages and was largely printed in black and white. The content however is familiar to the present day reader. The RAB whose recipe was described for the first time in the inaugural issue is still a killer go-to fly. Ed Herbst was writing then about the beginning of light tackle small stream fishing which is still a thing today. Some things have however changed. The relationship with environmental authorities were considerably more cordial back then. Early editions of the magazine record substantial donations by FOSAF to assist in environmental research.
The response to what was by modern standards a rough and ready magazine was phenomenal. FOSAF could count on around 3000 members in those days and all members subscribed to the magazine.
Tom Sutcliffe’s inaugural editorial is instructive of the magazine’s focus and values both then and to this day. He pointed out that reader participation was critical and that the magazine could not just speak to trout anglers but must engage the broader flyfishing community.
Tom did not stay on as editor for long. He took on the task reluctantly on an interim basis and subject to the proviso that he would not stay on more than a year. Mark Basel and Roger Brett (Ronald Basel had since emigrated) had to find a replacement.
They did in the personage of Neil Hodges who took over at the beginning of 1989.
Mark and Roger found the business of publishing the magazine too much. It was not cost efficient for them and neither of them had the time required to properly run a print magazine. They accordingly handed the magazine over to Angler Publications which was then a partnership between Dave Rorke and Erwin Bursik. This was in January 1992.
The connection with the original owners was not severed as FOSAF still retained an interest in the title (but not the business) along with Mark and Roger. Dave Rorke took over as editor but Neil Hodges stayed in an advisory role until his relocation out of Durban in 1993. Mark and Roger’s association with the magazine had also terminated by that time.
The new ownership of the magazine resulted in an improvement of the production quality of the magazine. It was during this time that the magazine became more recognisable with what we would call a magazine today. It also got longer and by the mid 1990’s was running at its present length of some 50 to 60 pages.
The magazine grew despite the competing arrival of the monthly published The Complete Fly Fisherman (TCFF)) towards the end of 1993. Flyfishing increased its publication from quarterly to bimonthly with effect from February 1997.
Sheena Carnie took over as editor with effect from the August 1999 edition of the magazine. Dave Rorke moved upstairs to the position of managing editor. Dave Rorke was to hold that position until his death in February 2015. Sheena remained editor until the June 2018 edition at which time Angler Publications CC handed the magazine over to its present owners.
There was a bit of a kerfuffle in 2002 when TCCF complained that FOSAF’s association with the magazine amounted to unfair competition. This was complete nonsense but FOSAF in the interest of maintaining peace disassociated itself from the magazine.
It was a painful time and some of that pain is reflected in Dave Rorke’s editorials at the time. Looking back at the issue, one can safely say that the issue was not handled as well as it could have been and that FOSAF and the flyfishing community suffered as a result.
The magazine consequently dropped the strapline “the official journal of the Federation of Southern African Fly Fishers” in April 2002. It adopted the new strapline “Africa’s Original Flyfishing, Magazine” in July of 2002 which is still in place to this day.
Happily, although Flyfishing was no longer FOSAF’s official journal, the total disassociation did not last long. Although FOSAF never resumed its role as an owner, FOSAF news once again featured in the magazine. However it took nearly 10 years for FOSAF and the magazine to formally re-associate (or reaffirm its association as the FOSAF chair described it in a May 2012 newsletter). This happened quietly in November 2011 when the front cover of the magazine records that it is the official magazine of FOSAF.
The disassociation did not hurt the magazine which continued to prosper. December 2005 saw the magazine grow in content to a size where the perfect binding format became possible.
The impact of social media on the print media and print advertising began to bite hard around 2008. That was when Prime Media sold its magazine business to News 24. Many magazines closed as a result of this. Flyfishing weathered the storm better than most small magazines but its traditional venue orientated advertising base did suffer as a result of the advertising of accommodation online.
There is no single event which marked the slow bleed in advertising revenue. The fact is that fortunes of the print media were and are still are in decline everywhere. The flyfishing industry has not been immune to this reality. TCFF was forced to shift from a monthly publication to a bimonthly one at the beginning of 2016. Despite this 2017 saw the introduction of a third flyfishing magazine in the “The Mission”. This increased the competition for advertising revenue.
The drop in advertising revenue saw cost cutting quietly introduced in 2016 with a reduction in the size of the magazine and a consequent return to the stapled saddle stich format. However the writing was on the wall. The magazine was producing great content, better in fact than ever before, but it was not attracting advertisers nor was it communicating as effectively as it should into the social media space where so many fly anglers now interact.
The decision was taken at the end of 2017 to end print editions of the magazine and distribute it online as a free to market magazine. However, the promised support from advertisers did not materialise and consequently the decision was taken to close the magazine with effect from the June 2018 edition.
The new editorial team got to hear about this in May 2018 and decided that the magazine could not be allowed to die. So, as Dave Rorke and Erwin Bursik did some 26 years ago, a new team stepped in. This was done with the blessing of FOSAF who turned down the offer to take it on themselves.
This change brought with it a further name change. The magazine is now called “Southern African Flyfishing”. This was done to enable readers in the digital space to locate the magazine geographically. The magazine retains the strap line “Africa’s Original Fly Fishing Magazine” as well as its association with FOSAF. FOSAF does not, however, have any proprietary interest in the magazine or the title.
This name change has also brought a change in direction. The magazine will remain a digital publication. Its focus will increasingly shift from its print orientated roots to embrace the interactive opportunities that the electronic medium offers. Content will not be constrained to what appears on the page. Readers will be able to click through to other content. The idea is for the magazine to engage with readers in the social media space and become part of conversations with readers.
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