It was March. The grass seeds were suspended high on tall bent stems, their weight barely sustainable in the heavy morning dew. Their greenness was still in them, but not for much longer. A pale duskiness was creeping into the veld from the base of each plant, and replacing the verdancy of mid summer. Heavy rain had swept across the upper reaches of the Ndawana that week, but it was not a summer rain. The weighty black clouds hung low over the quiet veld, and cast shadows that were cool. Brief spells of bright sun were warm, but failed to make us sweat, as we moved up the valley.
The stream showed signs of milkiness in the deepest pools, but as the morning wore on, and we got further up, I was certain that any colour in the water had disappeared. The small rushing stream cut deep and clear through dark soils and rocky ground. It’s slender threaded path down the valley ran black in the shade of high banks, and sparkled in flurries of white water, lit and highlighted by passing sunlight patches.
I was fishing a Zak under an indicator. A small tussled fly, that looked sufficiently beaten-up to be appetising. The yarn indicator was greased and floating high. Conditions were good and I should have been hooking fish at will. I was hooking fish at will in fact. I just wasn’t holding onto them. My rig was wrong. My diary suggests that the indicator was too far from the fly. That may have been it. Whatever the problem was, I was out of sorts. I vaguely remember that the tippet was too long and hinging under the weight of the heavy fly. I was fishing 4X in an attempt to match the subtleties of the small stream, but it was too limp for the weight I was attempting to throw.
PD on the other hand was not only hooking fish at will: he was landing them too. He was on form. The journal records that he landed “about twenty Rainbows”. He was flicking his fly sharply ahead into the quick runs and riffles and staying in touch with the fly without pulling it too straight and inviting drag.
I stood behind him at a pretty run and watched him pull several fish from the same spot. I took a picture. He fished.
Later I went higher up on my own and found fish rising to a very small mayfly. I don’t remember what pattern I tried, but it was just one pattern. I didn’t change the fly. I cast it repeatedly with limited result.
I ended the day on three fish. My diary entry is brief to the point that it is not descriptive. I was off form, and when my tackle wasn’t right, I didn’t sit on a rock and correct it. When I didn’t have the right mayfly pattern, I didn’t try others. When I filled in my log, I scrawled briefly, and put it away.
Art and poetry don’t get produced on demand. Neither does text book fly-fishing. You have to be in the groove.
I often find that a thermometer is a poor measure of temperature, in terms of our experience of the fishing day.
Leaving aside the wind chill factor, which we all know well, a thermometer reading tells very little about what it feels like to be out.
Just the other morning, it was 13 degrees when I got up. On a winter’s morning, that is a very high overnight temperature, and one that on the face of it, should have the global warming guys saying “You see!”.
But strangely it didn’t feel that warm at all. The thing is, that as the day developed, the light remained dull from some high cloud, and although we had no wind to speak of, a southerly front oozed over, and the daytime temperature never went over 16 degrees. It was a cool day.
Likewise a 29 degree day in May and one of 29 degrees in January are two entirely different things. I suppose in that example you could put it down to a difference in humidity and you would be right.
The guys at Accuweather have this “reelfeel” thing, which is quite useful. It’s accuracy is, and always will be, debatable, but the fact that they felt a need to come up with such a concept, means that I am not the only one who sees the limitation of the mercury. But I don’t believe that the guys have it waxed yet. For example, I have a thermometer out front of my house and one out back, that give different readings. The difference between the two will vary considerably on two consecutive days when the reelfeel temperature is the same. I can’t get my head around such an abstruse outcome, except to say that our experience of the weather is complex.
Us fishermen are quite obsessive about our weather readings, and we add to that the water temperature, clarity, flow, and other factors, in an attempt to solve our Trout riddles. However, as I look through my fishing log, the temperatures, cloud cover, wind details and the like are never enough, and there is always a sentence in my notes that adds a descriptor. That sentence often deals with the degree to which it was miserable , or dull, or bright. One of the key things in there is a description about the light.
If one thinks about it, a day varies from those clear crisp type of days after rain, to the hazy ones. And the clear bright days after snow in winter, seem that much more pellucid and bright than the ones in summer when we have had rain.
And if I had to make a great big generalisation, I would have to say that a cool bright day is one that gets the fish going. Remember that this might be a sunny or an overcast day, but there will be a clarity to the light. The opposite of that would have to be a brassy day.
I often survey a landscape and declare it brassy with an air of disgust, since I believe it doesn’t auger well for the fishing. PD and I have a common understanding of what constitutes a brassy day, and we label them as such with an irritated clucking. Its somewhat of a code that we have, and the others don’t get it. You could probably measure all this scientifically, but to do so would cut into time fishing or in the pub.
My wife asked me to define this brassy classification the other day. There was a veld fire nearby, and the sunlight had turned yellow. She asked if this qualified as a brassy day, and without hesitation I said no. The coppery light was localised because the fire was nearby. Then she started to ask about days when there are fires everywhere and it is coppery all over. That would just be a collection of localised fires. Would that make it a brassy day? I don’t remember what my answer was. I do know that within 15 minutes I had contradicted myself, and she had caught me out! But PD and I still know if it’s a brassy day, without really being able to define why. We continue to use it consistently as an excuse as to why we didn’t catch any fish. It’s particularly handy since no one can dispute it.
Other anglers have similar things going. I remember my friend Kevin, who despite owning a thermometer would dip his finger into the water with an air of unassailable authority, and declare it cold enough to fish a Mickey Finn. I will often pack up when a still evening is ruined by a cold Easterly wind, but apparently that should not put me off if the clouds are hanging on the hilltops.Guy used to stay out in the most miserable of weather blown in by a cold front from the South, provided there was a nasty drizzle , and return with an enormous thirst and tales of big fish allegedly landed. Sometimes these syllogisms are obscure and relate to things like a favourite hat left at home on a cloudy day.
The best one that comes to mind is the one relayed by Jim Read: Eddie Combes use to ask the late Hugh Huntley if he had shaved that morning , and if indeed he had, Eddie reckoned you had no chance at all of catching a Trout!
It was the fifth of April. PD and I were in the highest of the high country in the North Eastern Cape. Mecca for short.
The sky was a very pale blue, brushed at times with a high and hazy grey white. The weak and filtered sun crept through that haze, and kissed the hills, between interludes of cool breeze, and brighter sunshine. One could just feel the sun’s warmth through a thick denim shirt, and at times it wasn’t enough and one felt the need for an extra layer. The North facing hillsides there are covered in a dense cloak of grass, that waves slightly yellow in April. The Southern facing nooks and crannies are dappled in spiky tufts, as are the immediate river banks. The rocks are the pepper of the veld: strewn everywhere, rough, weathered and interesting, glistening here and there with Quartz and Pitch black and shiny in the stream.
We were not sure of the exact location of the lower boundary. But today was special, and it deserved all our effort in fishing every inch of river that the shortening days would allow us to fit between where we were and sunset. We are both working men, and days on a heavenly stream in the perfection of the April weather are to be treasured and optimised to the full. So we set out for “down there” with conviction and determination, striding ahead over rocky outcrops and ridges, our path curving slightly left and right as we discovered the course of the stream. At some point we arrived at a spot at which the stream was clearly taking a plunge down into a gorge. It is at a junction such as this, that one realises that the passage of the current is about to take you into a venture which calls for a sleeping bag and a tent. You stand atop a rock craning your neck to see if there is a pool down there which you should head for, but a realisation sweeps over you, that you will be going no further on your day-trip. You must start your fishing now, lest you hike so far down that you wont be able to fish back up to the vehicle, without skipping much of the good water on the way back.
PD and I had reached such a spot, but our decision to start in and fish was not such a disappointment or limitation, since we were blessed with an absolute gem of a pool at that point in the river.In fact the pool was a beast. It’s size was such that it was too big for this stream. It was a freak of a thing. It was maybe twenty metres long, with water plunging in at the head in a flurry of white water, and below that it swept probably two metres or more deep, with enough room in there for a leviathon of your dreams. From where we were, the pool lay below us to the South West. We decided to crawl over to the crest of the small krantz overlooking the pool and take a peak in there. As our heads popped over the rim and our eyes adjusted to the deep green water below us, we both gasped.
Below us, suspended in the translucence, were a couple of Rainbows of Alaskan proportions! If we swore, it was not a curse but an expression of religiously significant awe.
We watched for a while. We counted them. We marveled at them. We tried to guess their size, and the depth at which they were finning away. Were they feeding? It was hard to say, but it looked promising, they were not static, but moved slightly back and forth, side to side. It all looked so enticing, but the enormity of the act of peeling off the first coils of line to actually start casting for them, was daunting. We couldn’t lie there in the grass and rocks all day just watching them, so PD insisted that I go after them. I wasn’t too sure that my skills were up to the challenge and I tried to cop out with the usual “no… you start”. As we all know this is a sort of ritual of humility and manners, and PD’s offer for me to take them stood, as is normally the case.
It was decided that he would remain in place as a spotter for me. This is always a good tactic for fish like these. So I crept back from the edge, and went a long way down and around, disappearing from sight of the pool for a good long time. When I came back around to the river, I was in fact well below where I needed to be. This is better than finding you have walked right upon the fish you planned to stalk. I decided that PD would understand me taking my time, so I peeled off line and fished the fast run below the pool first. I needed to get the kinks out of my line. Get my rhythm, and gauge the sink rate of the fly I had chosen.
This duly done, and with some trembling, I positioned myself at the tail of the pool, and fearfully put out the first cast.
The line landed. PD confirmed that the fish had not spooked. He gauged the three dimensional model of my drift, and commented that maybe I needed to cast higher up to allow the fly to get down to the fish. I banked that info for the second cast, and waited patiently for the line to wash to me, to avoid a splashy lift-off above the fish.
The second cast went out, with my heart still in my throat. Mid way down the drift my heart stopped altogether as something took. But it was a small fish that had darted out from nowhere and grabbed the nymph. I pulled it hard to one side and horsed it in, well away from the big fish. PD was experiencing some riffle on the water, and he struggled to see what had happened. To my relief he soon reported that the big ones were undisturbed! It was almost too good to be true: I would have a third shot at it.
PD craned over the edge, desperate to remain low, but trying to get an angle that helped his eyes cut through a bit of glare that was developing. As I set about the third delivery, PD suddenly blurted, in a tone way more bold and loud than our whispers until now: “Bugger. Sorry!”. For in instant I was puzzled, but very soon the mug sized rock bounding down the slope came into view, and the enormous splash as it smacked the surface in the middle of the pool, sent both of us off in peels of laugher and volleys of curses.
The humility and forgiveness of great friendships is invaluable on a Trout stream!
A piece of open stillwater can be a bland thing. The other day Neil and I were out on some lovely, but somehow dull water. There was a dead calm, and we didn’t see or touch a fish. I suggested that the day was a good advert for stream fishing.
But sometimes it is very different.
Today I was out alone on a small piece of water. Being mid winter the water was crystal clean, but more importantly the light was right. Light is so important in fly-fishing, but the right light is also so very difficult to describe.
Suffice to say that one wants little or no smoke or haze, and generally the light behind you, or at least high overhead. You want your polaroids to be working a treat. That day, the sun was in fact ahead of me, but there was a steep bank opposite, such that a small band of water was without sheen or reflection.
It was weeded up close to where I was waded, but twenty yards out there was a channel. I suddenly caught sight of a trout there, moving quite fast, and the under-water world opened up. Funny how that happens: You are looking at the surface, and then suddenly something moves, your eyes adjust, and now you are looking through the surface instead of at it.
Here is a little help (since I had the all important help of having seen it move.
And some more images of other fish during the morning:
You are not sure if what you think is the fish, is in fact it, are you?
Neither was I !
They would appear and then disappear again, like ghosts. Given that it was flat calm most of the time, I daren’t cast until a gust of wind came. The fish were moving up and down, and I could only see them when the breeze abated. But when the calm set in, I would surely line them. So I waited for Nirvana: I needed to spot a fish in dead calm, and keep it in my vision until a puff of wind ruffled the surface. Then I would cast to a point 2 yards in front of the fish, and wait for it to intercept. Maybe tweak the fly as it came along.
In an hour and a half, that scenario presented itself just once. It was a cast demanding a double haul to get there. The fly landed perfectly. Although the water was now riffled, I saw the mouth open as the Trout took my fly. I struck.
And it came free.
I did land two fish later on, fishing blind, but for me, fooling that fish earlier, was what made my day, even if I didn’t get a hand to it. And was it worth and hour and a half?
Footnote. The photos were taken at ISO800 on 1/80th of a second and zoomed to about 800 to 1000mm. They were lightened and contrast and highlights enhanced in Lightroom to make the fish more visible. When there was no wind at all I concentrated on photographing them instead of trying to catch them, as I knew I wouldn’t stand a chance!
My Friend Neil and I were out the other day roving around between some Trout waters that were not looking all that promising.
Neil asked me to stop, and asked if he could borrow my camera. I had been boasting about just how fantastic these bridging cameras are nowadays.
On optical zoom only, shot from the passenger seat, this is what he got:
On no zoom:
1200mm equivalent, optical zoom only!
And in the photo editor back home, effectively using digital zoom:
And a bit more, just to show where you can go with this thing:
These were taken on auto setting, as J-pegs (not in RAW), and with the camera hand held. (I did switch the motor off for Neil). The images have not been manipulated at all other than the cropping of the lower two.
When I was buying the camera, many of my colleagues tried to point me in the direction of another Canon, (The Powershot G12 or G15) that is more compact, and for which you can buy a waterproof housing. But when I learned that Canon’s SX30 had been upgraded to the SX50, that now shoots in Raw format, and with the zoom extended from 850mm to 1200mm (35mm camera equivalent), as well as a better “frames per second” in continuous shooting mode, I was sold.
Without having to familiarise myself with new controls, the upgrade from the SX30 to the SX50 was a breeze.
One could argue that you don’t need zoom for landscape and fly-fishing situations. Maybe you would be right.
Or maybe not.
But here are some review links for you to make your own choice:
Every now and then, the eight to five world of suburbia, commitments and credit cards, releases me for more than just a day trip. In other words, every once in a while, I somehow find a gap, and head out on one of those fly fishing trips that involves a night or two in a fishing cottage. Not a few stolen hours, in which you are watching the time. I am talking about two or more days at a trot on the water.
It is heaven!
The anticipation of those trips is childlike in my case. It is childlike in that the lead-up to such a trip stirs in me a buzz no different from that I experienced as a schoolboy when a fly-fishing trip was on the cards. Back then, as it is now, the days leading up to my departure are filled with checking of tackle, filling fly-boxes, and picturing what else I might need out on the water. I am a slave to preparation and planning, but I love it. As the day of departure grows closer, I will be testing a new lanyard arrangement for my forceps, or swapping tackle between pockets in my vest. I will don my fly-vest in the lounge and swing my arms to check that the new this or that, doesn’t snag on my clothing.
I will move the beanie and gloves from that pouch to this pocket, and find a new container for this thing or that. One that fits better, seals better, or is more compact. Of course filling fly-boxes is a big one too. Removing odd lots from the fly-box, and filling gaps in the rows of favourite patterns that are showing the signs of battle loss.
It is a ritual, in which one pictures and anticiiptes the trip a thousand times. In picturing the days away, your tackle will be neatly stowed. Everything will stay in its place. Nothing will break, or go missing. Each time you arrive at a water, you will open up what you need. It will all be where you left it, your rod will be up in minutes, and you will be on the water without delay.
In reality, the trip will be one of switching vehicles, changing plans, and of rough roads, that somehow conspire to jumble everything that you take along for the trip. Everything will be coated in dust or mud. When you leave one water for another, you will have got in last, and rather than hold the guys up, your tackle will have been tossed, more than it will have been “stowed”.
You will have old leaders stuffed in shirt pockets, spare spools left in float tubes, and fly boxes under the seat in the other guy’s bakkie. That pair of forceps you attached so neatly with some ring or clasp or snap device will have pulled loose, and will be back in your vest scratching your fly-box as before.
When you return home on the last day, your hands will be rough and dry.
Your face a little red from the wind and sun, and your tackle will be a mess. Unpacking your bakkie and putting everything away will be a major task, undertaken in a state of quickly escalating exhaustion. You will hang up the wet waders behind the fridge with a satisfied sigh, and a smile in your soul. Once you are through the shower, you will collapse into a sleep as childlike as that you had as a young boy returning from a day on the beach. Instead of the sound of crashing waves repeating itself in your head, it will be the slap and suck of waves, or the babble of the stream, that carries into your dreams. You will sleep heavily, relaxed in the knowledge that the misplaced fly reel must be knocking around in your vehicle somewhere.
There is nothing like a good fly-fishing trip!