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Fly Fishing in the Rift Valley

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The rural Kenyan village of Rongai is probably the last place one would expect to pick up tips on Irish fly fishing.

Situated about 30 kilometres west of Nakuru, the Rift Valley hamlet is a typical, medium-sized African village. On any afternoon its maze of narrow streets hum with activity as people go about their business; one alley crackles with the sound of a welder's torch, another moves to the thump of a workman's hammer.

Elsewhere villagers flitter from shop to shop, each establishment painted in the vibrant colour of a well-known consumer brand - there's the green of Safaricom, one of the country's many mobile network providers; the yellow of Crown paint; and, of course, the familiar red of Coca-Cola, ubiquitous all over the continent.

But away from all that, in a small, non-descript building on the periphery of the village, a group of students are busy learning how to tie fishing flies.

"We make very good flies here," says teacher Peter Sigei. And he's probably right. Many of the flies made in Kenya will be exported west, to the United Kingdom and America in particular.

Sigei and his business partner, Joesph, currently supply some of the bigger Kenyan companies involved in the export of fishing flies.

Working on a commission basis they fill regular orders and take pride in their craft. "We can do any type of fly," Sigei says, explaining that they often get quite specific requests.

"Sometimes, people will send us pictures of the types of flies they want us to make. Other times we make special flies for different parts of the world.

"We mostly send salmon flies to Ireland."

Domestically, demand is also strong. A large amount of the flies they tie will travel to the coast, to Mombasa and elsewhere. Sigei says they make fresh water flies for the anglers on Lake Victoria and larger, salt water flies for the east coast fishermen.

It's a skill that requires dexterity and patience, but for the eight students in this cramped room - huddled over clamps, fingering spools and needles - it offers a lucrative opportunity.

"We get many applications from people who want to learn how to make flies," Sigei adds.

Himself and Joseph sift through the applications and create a shortlist of people to interview. From these they select a group to train. After an intensive three month course the students are ready for employment. Some of them will stay and work for Peter and Joseph in Rongai, others will go elsewhere and tie flies for different companies.

The small workshop is littered with materials: deer and elk fur, marabou down, and feathers of various hues.

This training centre in Rongai has been operational for about a year and Sigei and Joseph have ambitious plans for expansion.

"At the moment we sub-contract to companies but we want to go on our own. We want to go international."

To this end they have set up their own company, Ultimate Fishing Flies Kenya. Currently in its nascent stage the enterprise is yet to establish itself in the competitive Kenyan fly tying sector. But there's time yet. Sigei says they have their eyes on the British and American markets. Assuming their plans come to fruition - and from the determination of the students here at Rongai, there's no reason to think they won't - anglers will soon be pulling Salmon from Irish rivers using flies tied by a young start-up company from Rongai.