In his book “Fly fishing outside the box”, Peter Hayes says that one needs watchable fish in order to study their behavior.
That sounds like an obvious thing to say, but let’s consider it in the South African context:
In the Western Cape we have generally clear streams emanating from a rocky landscape. The streambed is often pale, even whitish in colour, and although the slightly brackish water gives the streambed a yellow tinge, you still commonly have many pale areas against which trout spotting opportunities abound.
In the Eastern Cape the streams are a bit more inclined to dirty after rain. There is also an abundance of deep green pools. However, between those pools are ample areas of mottled stone, incorporating paler shades.
(can you see the trout?)
I have had many exciting trout spotting experiences on streams like the Bokspruit, and Riflespruit. Moments when you can’t decide whether to employ the fly rod or the camera, but in either event you can spend long moments relishing the sight of a finning Rainbow. I say “relish” because there is a delight in just watching these lithe and fleeting fish. They appear and then blend, and re-appear, and watching them becomes an exercise in concentration.
And that exercise yields information every time. Every observation opportunity is one in which you can imprint on your mind another example of how and where these fish move, what scares them, how close you can get to them, and a myriad other tiny observations. These are observations that we learn from, probably without realising it. One day you will be explaining something about trout to a beginner angler, and he will ask “How do you know that?”. You won’t immediately know how it is that you came to know it, but it will be because you have watched these fish.
Here in KZN, I experience fewer opportunities to watch fish. It is difficult to explain quite why, but let me attempt it anyway. For one thing, and I am generalising here, we have a lot of deep green water. That is water that, even when clean, appears bottle green, and is very difficult to look into. We consider it clean, and it is, but a lot of it is deep, and perhaps more importantly, it is against a mud, or black rock bottom.
Even in the more shallow runs, the river bed is not one that lends itself to trout spotting quite like other provinces. And then too we have a fair amount of cultivation in our catchments, so that in summer one encounters water that is not as sparkling as it could be.
We can of course head up into the mountains more, as Peter Brigg does, but even Peter remarked the other night how we don’t have trout spotting opportunities quite like the Western Cape. I agree with him. The other thing to consider, is that we are often searching for Brown Trout, and they are a wily prey if ever there was one! But somewhere like the upper Bushmans does offer some opportunity to observe our prey.
I think that the point of all this, is to say that even a stillwater fly-fisherman would do well to seek out trout spotting opportunities in order to build his knowledge of the fish that we hunt. And so, regardless of the small size of the fish we may encounter in some of the thinner, higher waters, I treasure every opportunity I get to go looking for fish. In particular, I look forward to our regular forays to the North Eastern Cape. I would encourage fellow KZN anglers to spread their wings a little, and visit the berg, The NE Cape, and the Western Cape. It has been far too long since I last wet my own feet in a Western Cape stream. I feel a trip coming on.
The fishing club that I belong to has a very efficient web based booking system. It is all very slick. You log on with a password, tick little boxes, and when you are done it sends you an automated e-mail. Very functional.
But back in the day, we had to deal with people!
One club had a truly dear lady, whom one phoned at set times in the evening. She chatted away, and got to know each of the regular club members, at least in an “over the phone” kind of way. As a high school kid, my car owning friend obliged and the two of us fished every single day of the holidays, booking the next day’s water in the evening , just after getting in off the water. Each day as he dropped me off at the farm house we had a ritual in which we had to decide who was going to call her. “ you call her” “No, I called yesterday, you call her” and so it would go.
We referred to her by the most dreadful name you could possibly give a lady, but never to her face of course, and our appalling label was hardly befitting of such a gracious and friendly soul. I guess it was a macho schoolboy thing, fortunately conducted harmlessly between the two of us, but mention of it here brings the memories flooding back.
Another club up the road had a booking office that you called at. I remember holiday season up there. We would stop by in the morning, eager to locate the best beat, find out what had fished well the day before, and generally fuel up on fishing lore.
But the old fox in the booking office, albeit being friendly enough, had a sour disposition. We would scan the blackboard behind him, running our eyes down the list of farm names. Each one we paused at and enquired about would bring on remarks of “full of bass that one”, or “you will get stuck on that road for sure”, or “choked with weed”. So it would go, until inevitably there were none left from the list, and we would return to the water where we had blanked the day before. Our enthusiasm and eagerness in tact only because we were fifteen years old.
Thinking back on it, it was not unlike that classic John Cleese skit, in which he calls on the cheese shop, and tries unsuccessfully to buy just about every cheese known to man.
Then there was the time that I phoned ahead to book camping and fishing at Highmoor. Of course the phone line is strung feebly up a mountain pass, and there is a lot that goes on between town and Highmoor along that line, so it was crackly.
When we arrived at that tiny office, fully loaded with gear, my wife and I were alarmed to hear that it was fully booked, and that there was no place for us. I politely asked to see the booking register, where I discovered that my name (Andrew Fowler) had been morphed in a label that I am still referred to at times, “Hundry Sowler”. I politely corrected the good booking man, and turned to speak to my wife, but she was gone: she was outside in the garden sobbing with laughter!
You had to be there.