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Three rivers and their stippled beauties

There has been much talk over the years about the subtle variations in the colouration and spot patterns on browns from different rivers here in the KZN midlands. I too have expressed opinions or generalisations about how the fish look in this river or that.  So it occurred to me to post here a sample of fish pictures from each river.

In this way you can not only decide for yourself, but you can help me identify a pattern or trend, if indeed there is one. Because much as I adore the poetry in describing the special colouration of some hallowed stream’s trout, I have to confess that with the hard cold evidence in front of me, I am struggling!

So there you have it: Loch Leven strains , Von Bher (red spots), maybe some Slovenian influence, and who knows what else in between. The photos were also taken at various times of the season, and of course that will have some effect too. But can you think up a rule that will hold true, or describe a pattern that can’t be disproven with these or other pictures?

Here is a table summarising what I can see in these pictures.

Characteristic/ River Bushmans Mooi Umgeni
Red spots no yes yes
small spots no yes yes
large splodges yes yes yes
silvery no not so much yes
butter yellow yes yes some
spots up on the head & mouth no no no
 Other features?

Please do drop me a comment if you have any ideas, because this one has me beaten……

Some of these photos are robbed from my friends and colleagues off Facebook or the internet, and many were not taken by me. It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.  Thank you to any of you who unknowingly donated pictures in the name of science !

Slowing it down

I think I have been moving too fast.

Mtshezana (18 of 30)

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.

P1020114

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.

Mkomazi (42 of 47)

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.

Carabas (26 of 35)

I think I have been moving too fast.

Crow bars and treble hooks

Last week-end, we kept a Rainbow from the Umgeni.

Umgeni (47 of 49)

That is only the third Rainbow I have ever seen come out of the Umgeni, (It is a Brown Trout stream) and in the interests of purity I encouraged my fishing buddy to smack it on the head. We don’t do that very often anymore, so it took me repeating the suggestion several times before he reluctantly harvested the little fish.

What was remarkable about it, was what was in its stomach. There was a whole bunch of digested stuff that wasn’t immediately identifiable, but then there were these hard little shells. Anton reached up from the river and passed them to me. We couldn’t work them out. They were not snails, and it was too gloomy to get a really good look. I popped them into an empty coke bottle in my vest.

It was not until a few days later that I go around to washing out the coke bottle, and sieving out the little fellows. I cleaned them in a little sieve the size of a tea strainer. (My wife asked me shorty thereafter what I had used the sieve for, and could she safely use it to sieve some cork out of her glass of wine. What  you don’t know can’t hurt you).  The coke seems to have cleaned the little shells up, and they shone like little barnacles, but I still had no idea what they were.

unidentified (4 of 5)

I sent the pictures off to my friend Jake Alletson a little later, with an explanation that these had been found in a trout’s stomach, but that no crow bar had been found in its possession at the time.  Jake is a wise man, and we hang on his every word when it comes to aquatic bugs.  Jake responded immediately so say that he had no idea how these may have found their way into a trout’s stomach and that they are limpets (Ancylidae).  He went on to say

“I am not sure of the genus or species and would probably need to see the actual specimens to make a call on that. 

Like marine limpets, these ones stick tightly to the rocks so I have no idea of how a trout would be able to get a hold on them to eat them.  Also like the marine forms, they only move very slowly.  Therefore, if you want to tie an imitation I would suggest that you use a heavy wire treble hook.  This will sink rapidly to the bottom, get stuck on something, and behave just like the natural!”

Well there you have it! I told you he is a wise man.

Now to source some heavy wire treble hooks in size 18, and take a month off work to go and wait it out on a deep pool on the Umgeni!  

Umgeni (48 of 49) 

 

Back to heaven

Rhodes travels (5 of 28)

all the rusted signs we ignore throughout our lives
choosing the shiny ones instead”   (Pearl Jam: Lyrics to the song Thumbing my way , from the album “Riot act” 2002)

Buzz

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.

Umgeni (4 of 49)

He did catch browns too. So did I. Lovely buttery little fellows.

Umgeni (20 of 49)

They were willing, even if they were a little incompetent at hooking themselves at times.

Umgeni (45 of 49)

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.

Umgeni (33 of 49)

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.

Glory days.

Umgeni (23 of 49)

Wet socks and Whisky

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.

Carabas (6 of 35)

Whisky from the bottle cap, ice on boots, and rocks on two wheel tracks. Rods, flies, cussing, jokes and dust.

Carabas (1 of 35)

Cold wet socks.

Trout.

Carabas (26 of 35)

Nuts, mussels and biltong from the backpack.

Bokspruit (21 of 32)

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.

Rhodes travels (3 of 28)

The veld: whisked and brushed by wind, seed-heads bowing and bucking, in browns and pale sun-washed ambers.

Sterkspruit (14 of 18)

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.

Kraai (27 of 37)

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.

Rhodes travels (23 of 28)

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.

Carabas (25 of 35)

Drifts, flicks, drag, and lightning takes. Sleep, drive, walk, fish, walk, drive, drink, eat, sleep.

Bokspruit (30 of 32)

Repeat.

Bokspruit (1 of 32)

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