I think I have been moving too fast.
In years gone by (in fact right up until this week), I have been the guy moving on up. I glance at a bit of water, metaphorically shake my head, and move on. If a spot is half likely, I might dust it with a few casts, then tell myself I was right about it, and move on. The first cast at a pool or run is the best one, I reason, and each subsequent presentation will have diminishing returns.
Now don’t get me wrong, I still believe there is merit to that approach, but I think that I for one, am at risk of taking it too far.
If I stop a while and think about it, I might just realise that I have been shown up by some of my flyfishing buddies. I might just be a little red faced at having passed up a piece of pocket water, only to have the bloke catch up with me at lunch time, and tell me how many fat Browns he pulled out of just that spot.
Just this last season, Graeme was fishing a pool on the Mkomazi without result. I was standing behind him getting some photos. The pool looked great, so I hovered behind him for a while, fully expecting him to get something. I really did believe he would. For a while. After about ten or fifteen minutes, I lost that belief. He had put drift after perfect drift over the sweet spot in the pool, as well as every piece of water either side of that, without result. I could not fault his technique, his stealth, or his presentations, but I developed a belief that there must be no fish there. Or perhaps that somehow, through no fault of his, they had spooked.
I put my camera away and moved on to fish my allotted piece above him.
No sooner had I taken the fly from the keeper, and he was whistling for my attention. He was into a great fish. A real beauty.
Then on a recent rip to the mountains of the North eastern Cape, I was on the Sterkspruit at Birkhall. I was at a deep run that flowed tight against a cliff in the deep shade, and with a side current that came into that, almost at a right angle, in an even deeper funnel of bubbling water. It seemed the perfect place to try my hand at some euro style nymphing. That is not something I do very often, but I figured I would give it a go. I did. I tried it for a while on both pieces of water, on either side of the gravel bar that I was standing on. The gravel bar, that I soon got to thinking had me standing above and over the trout. I was in the bright sun too. I quickly lost faith in what I was doing. It went against everything I have been taught, everything I know. The fish could see me. I was in front of them, and not behind them. It felt wrong. I figured I would write off any thoughts of catching anything, but that I would use the opportunity to try to perfect the method. To practice. I added weight to the fly and I flicked it again. I concentrated on leading the fly through the run, using clues to guess whether the fly was ahead or behind where my line entered the water. I lifted the fly, and tried to establish if it was lifting off the bottom in an enticing way or whether perhaps I had it in mid flow, in no-mans land, and was raising it closer to the surface in a futile act. I practiced, and practiced, and tried again. And I caught two trout.
I think I have been moving too fast.
It started with mosquitos the night before. They had bugged me half the night, buzzing around my ears frequently but at irregular intervals. I could hear them, and I guessed at their location for the purpose of aiming my ineffectively flailing open hand.
The ants required the same open hand, but thankfully the blows were one hundred percent effective, crushing the little buggers milliseconds after they delivered a painful bite to the back of my neck. I had picked them up at a fence crossing. They must have been crawling on my back. There was this pole you see. A sort of “H” frame that kept the fence tension. It was that taught wire that was the problem. I stood on it, while I was astride the pole, and the thing I have feared for several decades might happen, happened. That is why I stayed on top of the pole long enough for the ants to climb on board. Long enough to start breathing again. Just last week I pointed out a fencing staple and a notch in the pole that could have injured PD in this way, and now it befell me.
Anton disappeared around the bend chortling. Chortling repeatedly. After he had left, I could still hear him chortling. In fairness he had showed some concern for my health at the time that the wire snapped, but now, having fed me smoked sprats and whisky for breakfast he was chortling.
Despite the ants, and despite the mosquitoes, the day had promise. I found fish rising, and I even had one on briefly, but it threw the hook. Letting the pool settle after the splashes, I went and found Anton and beckoned for him to come and catch one.
He did catch browns too. So did I. Lovely buttery little fellows.
They were willing, even if they were a little incompetent at hooking themselves at times.
By evening they were throwing themselves after caddis, but during the day they were doing more strange things like gently sipping hoppers. Go figure!
That’s browns for you.
On this same river the browns have “shown me a toffee” more times than I care to remember. That was an expression Kev used a lot. And since we and our varsity buddies had fished this stretch, back in the eighties, I had been shown a toffee here more often than is reasonable to expect. Back then though, this was glory water. Us youngsters had succeeded in getting the fishing club thrown out of here. We fished it too often, and the farmer grew tired of all the foot traffic. I can’t blame him. We were pests. You would have been too with fishing that good. A tired pest that is. Maybe Anton will become a pest. He was back there the next day, hungry for more brown trout action. I would have gone too, but there is this career thing that I have.
Back then none of us had such encumbrances. We were footloose and fancy free. Car free too, but Kev had a VW Golf. That was one smart car! We went fishing in it, and we came back late at night. In the blackness and tiredness the dashboard lighting glowed bright orange. The tape player was similarly illuminated , and it spewed forth excellent rock music that I often hadn’t heard before, but which sounded so good on that stereo. The beer was cold and the euphoria of a great day on the water, together with the loud clear music carried us home in a mild buzz. Anton’s dashboard glows the same orange, and his stereo played “Marillion” at a healthy volume. Great stuff. Cold beer too. And a euphoric buzz to boot. We had a great day on the river.
My mind is a whirl of flaming Lombardy poplars, water clear and cool; of shafts of sunlight cutting across the mountains and igniting the yellowing veld.
Whisky from the bottle cap, ice on boots, and rocks on two wheel tracks. Rods, flies, cussing, jokes and dust.
Cold wet socks.
Nuts, mussels and biltong from the backpack.
The Birkhall porch: swirls of light and clinking glasses in the night. Tobacco smoke and fishing plans. Roads: ever curling , descending, rising, twisting and demanding another gear.
The veld: whisked and brushed by wind, seed-heads bowing and bucking, in browns and pale sun-washed ambers.
Footfalls: plodding and tired in wet boots, stumbling on stones, sliding into the water, jarring knees, and pushing aside ever resisting swathes of grass and current.
Fatigue. Freedom. Beer. Faces of true friends ignited in the day’s sunlight, smiling, jovial and a little reddened. Steaming plates of hot food. Coffee. Sleep. Tea. Frost. sunlight and wind.
Punching fly-casts. Fish, fleeting, fleeing, watery and dreamlike. Sheep paths. Tippet and gink. Wet poplar leaves. Tongues of current and water spreading over pale gravel and stone.
Drifts, flicks, drag, and lightning takes. Sleep, drive, walk, fish, walk, drive, drink, eat, sleep.