Waters & words

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What’s in the box?

On Sunday I had one of those quiet days at home. After week-end, upon week-end of a days fishing plus a day of some other activity, I needed to re-group, and sort out my fishing tackle. Fly reels were turning up in cool-boxes in the kitchen, leaders in my briefcase,  fly floatant smeared on my drivers license, that sort of thing. It was time to sort it all out. I also needed to empty the fly-patch, since I am sure I have been dropping flies off of there into bankside vegetation all over the province.

So I emptied what was in there onto the coffee table.

Trout flies (1 of 1)

It is not a complete collection, but a fairly representative sample of what I have been tying on the business end lately. 

This has all of course been on stillwater, with the rivers having been closed until this week.

At the top there is a klink syle buzzer and two woolly buggers. Down the left hand side, those olive jobs are: a Minkie, an FMD and a Papa Roach.

Centre left going down, are : an egg pattern, a gill-bodied nymph, and a San Juan worm.

Centre right: a black DDD, a cdc emerger, a caddis larva, a PTN flashback, and a red-eyed damsel.

Far right, a snail, a humpy and a DDD.

The largest one is a #6 (the Minkie), and the smallest the CDC emerger at #18.

And the flies that have done some damage?

The FMD, The egg pattern, and that red and black woolly bugger.

What patterns would you have added to a stillwater winter collection?

Photo of the moment (5)

IV (16 of 30)

The Rock pigeon in the pump-house.

Hopeful romantics

I remember several years ago, taking my [then] girlfriend  to a favourite stretch of the upper Mooi in September, and finding it very low and slimy.

She must have doubted my honesty, because for months I had described to her this babbling brook of ice cold crystal water, rushing over rocks. And on a hot dry September day, it was anything but that. The water was clear, but it was undeniably sluggish, and there was a furry brownness to the underwater rocks.Water limped between pools, rather than gushed, and nowhere did one see water droplets thrown into the air by the force of the stream, as I had no doubt described to her. It looked dead, even if it was not. I tried to explain, but I sense that with each description of how it CAN look, I dug myself deeper.

Rivers are remarkable in that they are barely recognisable from one trip to another. A push of rainwater or snowmelt, a flood, or a few dry months, and the place is transformed into something that has you doubting your own memory.

So of course the Mooi did return to its old self, as it always does, and as it will this spring too.

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On further trips to the Mooi I was able to show her what I mean when I say that the river is “sparkling”, and I  can’t have done too badly, because it was at a special spot beside that same river that I proposed to her. It was sparkling that day despite the lateness of the season, and she accepted!

I remember once fishing Reekie Lyn on another of those dry spring days, and it was once again in a sorry state. It was a dry dull hot Sunday. The most action we saw was a large angry puffadder that I imagined wanted to kill me. The following day I flew to Joburg, and we flew straight over Reekie Lyn. It had snowed heavily overnight, and was now clear as a bell. I refused to give up my window seat to another passenger who  wanted to see the snow. I wanted to see it more than he did.  As we flew over Reekie Lyn I looked down and spat “take that!” through my teeth at the puffadder below. I hadn’t seen him coming the day before, but can’t have seen the snow coming a few hours later either!

On another occasion I took my wife to a remote spot much higher up the same river. A spot where a misplaced oak tree grows peacefully beside the river, well within the Drakensberg, where such an alien species does not belong. But the tree is far enough up to have escaped the notice of the rangers, and somehow I am OK with that.  It is a loner, and has no offspring, and it is a lovely shady tree. The spot where it grows is flat, with whispy verdant grass, and beside this veritable lawn stands an enormous lichen covered boulder, alongside which the stream plunges into a pool that cries out to be fished, photographed or swum in. The choice depends on your particular passion, but either way, the spot is something like one of those scenes that used to appear on the front of chocolate boxes. Deep green water, short grass on the banks, not a sign of mud or erosion. A backdrop of heavenly mountains. It is perfection.

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The day that I hiked my better half up there, the heavens opened as we arrived, and the mountains remained shrouded in mist. She sat on an uncomfortable root under the tree, and remarked that there seemed to her to be no lush lawn anywhere. There were just roots and sticks and rainwater puddles. She read her book while the branches above dripped on her pages. The torrential rain did not let up, and once I had caught a few small Browns, and her book had disintegrated, we hightailed it out of there.

I have since taken a fishing buddy there with similar descriptions of this jewel of a place, but on that occasion it was in spate and we saw and caught nothing.

Game Pass (5 of 63)

 

Then I recommended a stretch of the Umgeni to someone who asked about it. They returned with tales of impenetrable bramble, nettles and turpentine grass, and have not asked my advice since.  A year or so earlier another friend and I fished the same stretch together in early spring before the rankness had set in. It was one of those glorious days, with a cool blue sky, fluffy white clouds, and if I remember, a few willing Browns. He twice asked me why I hadn’t told him about the beat sooner.

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So I guess my point here is that streams and rivers are places where a fly-fisherman needs to throw his expectations out of the window. He needs to go with whatever the season throws at him. He should probably shut his mouth when it disappoints, and revel in it when the going is good.

Come to think about it, he should shut his mouth when the going is good too, lest he later be judged a fraud, or worse still an NAHRR*

( * a Nostalgic and Hopelessly Romantic  Recidivist)

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Photo of the moment (4)

scratching  post (3 of 3)

A crisp August morning

As we steered across the vlei and ascended the slight rise on the Western side of the valley floor, the strong yellow rays of the sun lit the hill, and at its base the coruscating blue water came into view in a narrow strip.

scratching  post (1 of 1)

The light was brilliant in its clarity, but gentle in its insidious arrival, and soft in hue. The cold, on the other hand, was brutal and harsh. The puddles were iced on the way in and, but for the fact that there was no moisture in the air, there would have been a frost as severe as winter. It was neither winter nor spring. It was August: that in-between month of either hot or cold, but definitely dry.

Today was cold. The waders were icy, and I felt the need to pull on a beanie to cover my ears. 

There was a chop on the water from the fresh Westerly breeze, and the float tube rocked ever so slightly atop the crystal bowl of water that we were fishing. I had on an FMD. PD started with one too, but switched to a woolly bugger. He landed two Rainbows.

scratching  post (1 of 1)-3

They were strong fish, probably year-old’s from last years fry. I landed only one, which meant he was on tea duty.

Mind you, he is always on tea duty.

Photo of the moment (3)

August sunset

Trout South Africa (1 of 1)-27

Journeys through the journal (9)

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.

Ndawana (2 of 2)

 

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.

Ndawana (1 of 2)

 

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.

Photo of the moment (2)

Waterside visitor

Waterside visitor

Silly Syllogisms

I often find that a thermometer is a poor measure of temperature, in terms of our experience of the fishing day.

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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. 

South African snow (1 of 1)

 

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!

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Photo of the moment 1

Trout South Africa (1 of 1)-12

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