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!
Yesterday I headed out along the Kamberg road. Sunday past, this had been the scene of a wild and awful wind. One that lashed the dry veld angrily, kicking up dust and tossing branches. Inevitably, fire had been involved too. The farmers were now on guard. Houses, and even lives were lost down Kokstad way. Yesterday was calm. In fact it was calm all day, and with Sunday’s wind fresh in everyones memory, the farmers were out in force burning fire breaks.
Palls of smoke rose from a few spots up the valley. Something was burning up in the berg, South East of the Giant. There was a plume of thick white smoke on the slopes above the Crane foundation. I thought it might have got into the timber there, but luckily not. A black smoke rose from somewhere off on the Loteni road too.
In the morning the Giant seemed way off, bathed in a screen of white. By the afternoon that mountain was obscured in a haze which seem amplified by the late winter sun. That sunlight cut sideways across the landscape, through the dust and smoke, making the entire vista seem more vast and distant. Hills seemed miles away in the pale purple, and a yellowness on the veld close-by, made it all seem old. Like the page in some faded book, left open for far too long.
Our dry winters of dust and smoke make it hard to believe that there is any water out there at all.
When one considers how crisp and clear the outline of Giant’s Castle is after a rainstorm, it is difficult to believe that it can be obscured in haze , even from as close as the top of Vaalkop.
This is not city pollution. I suppose our farming activities increase the incidence of fire and our vehicles add to the dust in suspension in the air, but perhaps all this stuff we are breathing in is as natural as it gets. Perhaps I need to accept that ugly days are part of the deal. That berg winds, smoky days, severe heat waves, and all the other things that have a way of bringing on a bad mood, are just natural things, put there for us to endure, in order that we might appreciate the beautiful days.
Having travelled to Durban this morning, and witnessed that landscape, I very quickly appreciated the smoky Kamberg valley of yesterday. I realised that in fact I am a hillbilly, in as far as I am something the opposite of a city person. As I drove into Durban, I realised that I had been there far too long already.I managed to do what I needed to do without even switching off the engine, and I beetled back out of there as fast as I could. Tomorrow I will be up early. I will be out in the frost, kicking up ash in the burnt veld beside a Trout dam. Watching the sun rise through an orange lens of particulate matter.
The water will be ice cold and startlingly clean.
Maybe I will get a fish or two.
And maybe the dust isn’t so bad after all.
Skimming through fishing magazines, websites and books, I can’t help but notice the prevalence of articles espousing the wildness of the fishing. The secret location is so remote that a helicopter was the only way in. The bigger fish are in the headwaters above the waterfall, and it takes several hours to hike in. For the best fishing, you have to walk further. And so it goes.
And we want to be the one who DID walk further. The one who went higher into the mountains, beyond where your unfit mates would ever go.
We hope that the fishing there will be better too, because then we would have been rewarded for our efforts. We will also have a story to tell, and our mates are more likely to repeat the story on our behalf when we are not around. In short, we will be heroes. I remember taking two mates on an epic hike in cold damp weather, in which there was less fishing than hiking, and all we saw was one monster Trout racing for cover.
I enjoy the fact that we went up there, further than anyone else goes. When I see pictures of other’s expeditions that made it halfway to where we went, I have to bite my tongue. I don’t want to be the tosser who blurts out that we went higher. But I do enjoy knowing that.
I don’t believe that I have a competitive bone in my body. Maybe I do, but I don’t believe it. I don’t think I am trying to be a hero. If I am, please aim a kick at my shin!
What I do know, is that in a world of ringing phones, busy airports and desks overflowing in paper, I want to set myself apart from it all. Being the one who hiked over the big mountain to the dangerous side, and came back with a picture of a 22 inch Brown, is one way of pulling ones flagging spirit from the mire of modern life.
Some might argue that achieving this with a modicum of humility is the trick. They might be right, but I think that for a plunker like me, hooking that big Brown and then actually landing it, is where the real trick lies.