To read about the book, or to order a copy, click here.
Visit the Facebook page
Since I am more interested in rivers than history, I have yet to establish whether the original farms “Manor Farm” and “Brigadoon” actually share a common boundary or not. I have been busy working on a river instead of pouring over old surveyor general maps, which I would also like to do, if I could just find some time. What I can tell you is that you can see one farm from the other, and that the Umgeni River flows first through Brigadoon and then Manor farm. Brigadoon being on the southern bank, and Manor Farm on the northern one. The current owner of Brigadoon is our friend Russell Watson (who also happens to be South Africa’s most capped international polo player). And the owners of Manor Farm for many years have been the McKenzie family, that being the same family of the famous General Duncan Mckenzie. And it so happens that Russell is related (by marriage of his elder brother to the grand daughter of the brother of General Duncan Mckenzie), to the owners of the farm across and down from him.(‘”) Russell hails from farms in the Underberg district, including Seaforth (which happens also to be on a good trout stream), which was the family farm of the same MKenzie family into which his Brother married. Had my plans not gone pear shaped I would ,ironically, have been on the Umgeni at Brigadoon and five days later on the river at Seaforth. It could be seen as a migration in reverse of that of the bloodline, but only if you apply a lot of license, and as much imagination.
Lower Brigadoon, looking towards Manor farm
This interconnectedness and irony repeats itself everywhere. Take General Duncan McKenzie for example. He , among other things, built the road from Dargle to Fort Nottingham. With a bit of imagination you could say he built the road to Lions Bush, the farm of Peter Brown, since it is along that way. And then the politicians of the day go and re-name the Maritzburg freeway offramp to “Peter Brown offramp”, it having previously been named after none other than the man who built the road to Peter Brown’s farm: Duncan McKenzie.
I didn’t say I had no interest in history: as you can see I love to roll around the connectedness of things through history. In the same way I like to roll around the connectedness of things in nature, and perhaps science too. I also have an interest in that river that runs through the farms of Watson and McKenzie, as many of you will know. We cleared some more wattle trees from that river two weeks ago. While we were doing that I noted that a particular tributary was flowing quite strongly, despite the recent drought. It joins the main river at a spot where I have caught Brown Trout before, and I wonder if the feeder stream is not perhaps cooler than the main river.
The small stream enters from the left , joining the main river in the dead centre of this picture.
Or maybe it has some favourable chemistry, the complexity of which we may never be able to measure or understand. Then again that side stream runs in a very tight kloof on Furth Farm. A kloof that will undoubtedly stay shaded much of the time due to the topography it enjoys. Unfortunately though, I noticed that the same deep kloof has, like the main river, become infested with wattle trees.
I would like to rid that tributary of those wattles, because it would improve the water flows further, but it gets me thinking: Do we just chop them down and let the trunks lie where they fall and rot there, or do we poison them standing. Either way, the wattle stems, with their tannins, and whatever other chemistry they may introduce to the system, will remain part of it for many years to come. So perhaps they need to be cut, cross-cut and removed. That will have to be done by hand, as no tractor will get in there. So it would be a monster task, and it would be a whole lot easier just to drop them where they stand. Or poison them. But what might the effect of that be on the water that runs through the farm that the daughter of my great grandson might buy one day? The effect that would be, of either the poison, or the rotting wattle trunks.
And that gets me thinking in turn: we are removing lots of shade from the river that should, by reasonable deduction, cause the water to warm up. Pre global warming (if indeed you believe in global warming), and pre wattle trees, the Trout thrived. So the clear-felled river should be fine right? Or have the invasive wattles cooled a river that would otherwise have become non-viable for Trout. Or were the natural forests bigger back then, and so the water not as warm as we might make it now. Perhaps we might need to plant some indigenous trees on the forest fringes to enlarge those forests again. Does anyone have very old photos of the pockets of forest, or do they appear on old surveyor general maps? Maybe we need to find time and go pour over those old maps after all, lest we poison our great grandchildren. Or at least dash their chances of quality Trout fishing on the Umgeni.
(Heck! In which case we had might as well poison them and be done with it.)
(yes, I refer to the great Grandchildren…not the Trout or the wattles)
‘* my information was gleaned from a book entitled “The first 100 years of the Underberg Himeville district”
I am going to make a giant assumption, that having read part 1 of this story , you are in agreement with me that bass are a problem in the Trout areas here in KZN , and that something needs to be done about them. If you haven’t already agreed with the above, then you probably won’t be reading this anyway.
The biggest issue here, is that nobody knows how bass spread. There are however some theories. I will list those here, and then alongside each theory, suggest an appropriate measure to stop the spread.
Theory no 1: Bass eggs on Duck’s feet:
I find this one hard to believe. But because I don’t know it to be untrue, let me not write it off as nonsense. If this is indeed how bass spread, there is little that can be done (no…. I wont propose shooting all ducks). What does remain true however, is that the fewer waters that have bass in them, then the less chance there is of a duck flying from a bass dam to a trout dam, with an egg stuck on its feet. With this in mind, I propose paying attention to bass invaded waters in the general upland areas, even if they have no prospect of ever being a decent Trout water. By “paying attention to them”, I refer to whichever of the other measures mentioned below which might be practical.
Theory no 2: The farm mechanic stocks bass.
I have a sneaking suspicion that this problem is right up there …one of the main ones. If I generalise, I can say that farmers who are INTERESTED in their Trout fishing on their farms, seem to be less inclined to suffer a bass invasion. I can only assume that they lecture their staff on the value of their Trout water, that they care who fishes there, and by what method, and that they control access. In other words they EDUCATE. KZN does not have a “keep bass out” sign anywhere. I think it is time!
Theory no 3: Bass swim up a flooded spillway.
I believe in this one. We forget how strongly any fish can swim up a current. After a summer freshet, a dam spillway flows strongly through the grass or vlei for a few hours, giving bass a passage up to the next impoundment. One or two of these storms every year, and eventually a bass will swim up. The solution , when bass exist in the dam below, is to put stainless steel mesh barriers across spillways, and keep them clean.
NFFC volunteers erect a bass screen on a spillway in the Kamberg
Theory no 4: Water pumped from one dam or river to another transfers bass eggs.
This is not a theory. We have proof. Eremia dam was invaded this way in 2015, and in around 2013/4 Sourveldt received bass from the little Mooi River that has bass in it. This requires some study on how to screen the pump intake finely enough to stop bass eggs, but without causing suction vortex and pump cavitation. Once we have that worked out, it will be back to “Education” to ensure that the solution is put in place when farmers do have need of water transfer. To get that right, farmers will need to value their Trout fishing resource, as described above.
Those are all my theories.
Next is to understand the enemy to come up with some eradication/control measures. I did some googling a while back, and this is what I learnt about bass:
We can use this information to empower ourselves in the struggle against bass as follows:
Eric’s dam before :
Eric’s dam after:
We learnt this via the grapevine from farmers in the East Griqualand area who have done the same. We also know it to work, in that the Mearns Weir on the lower Mooi River, which has a constantly changing level has a particularly thin population of bass. There are also American reports of bass struggling to breed in resevoirs where level fluctuates.
The total onslaught:
My time in the army was a real waste of time. What I did gain was a “balsak” which still serves as an excellent tackle bag, and the concept of the ANC’s so called “total onslaught”. Whether or not the ANC did have a total onslaught strategy or not, I like the concept when tackling a problem as diverse and difficult as the spread of bass. I think we need to borrow the idea, and employ as many of the ideas and tactics mentioned in this article, all at once. I think that only if we do that, are we likely to achieve success in this endeavour. An endeavour that otherwise seems as hopeless as holding back the sea with a fork.
I illustrate my conviction that such a total onslaught is required with this sad story:
When the Spring Grove dam was built above Rosetta, the authorities had the foresight to have an impact study done. That study revealed that the Inchbrakie Falls constituted a natural fish barrier.
That natural barrier protected the Trout fishery above the falls, from an inundation by other warm water species from below. The dam would flood this barrier, allowing warm water species to migrate upstream.
A study was done, and a loss of economic value by such an inundation was calculated, and it was deemed justified to spend something like R10 million building a fish barrier. The dam was given the ‘go-ahead’ with the condition that such a barrier be built.
When the dam was under construction, budgets were being strained, and it is alleged by friends who attended meetings, and heard this first hand, that engineers proposed scrapping the fish weir because “There is no difference between Trout and bass anyway”. Interested and affected parties declared that a lawsuit would ensue if the pre-condition was not adhered to.
So the weir was built.
The lake thrown by the fish barrier on the Mooi River.
My conjecture is that it was built in a “wham, bam, thank-you mam” way. I say that because locals I spoke to had no idea why it was being built. Others who challenged the effectiveness of the proposed design were also brushed off. No signs were erected prohibiting transfer of species above the weir. No public education or engagement was entered into.
And now, not much more than a year after its construction, largemouth bass (seen with my own eyes), and allegedly smallmouth bass (I have not seen them), exist in the impoundment ABOVE the weir.
R10 million down the drain…completely wasted.
If this was a first world European country, the authorities who built the dam, would be forced by a court of law to spend whatever needed to be spent, and do whatever necessary, to reverse the damage they have done.
I for one, am truly saddened.
If you are as concerned as I am about the big bass problem, and if you feel that something should be done, please drop a comment here, or on facebook, or mail me on “truttablog at gmail.com” . In that way we can measure if this problem is worthy of action, or conversely if it touches so few people that it warrants abandonment.
Note that in all this, there is no attack intended on bass and bass fishermen on some wide scale: It is merely tackling bass invading waters in which, to the best of my knowledge, there is no economic or social value attached to bass fishing, but where bass threaten to erode that value found in Trout waters.
Because Trout and bass are being labeled as “alien invasive” by authorities in South Africa, they are together on the same side of the battle lines. That is perhaps the reason that little is being said by Trout fishermen about the bass problem. But a more likely reason is apathy, or some other failure on the part of us fly-fishermen to galvanise into action. I say that, because the unwanted, unchecked spread of bass in the uplands of KZN has been going on for thirty years. Those, by the way, are 30 years in which Trout have not “invaded” anywhere at all.
So why, might you ask, is so much being said about Trout being alien invasive, and NOTHING being said about bass?
I don’t know the answer. I can guess that Trout somehow have a colonial connotation about them, but that’s as solid a reason as I can dream up.
Now before any bass fishermen get over excited, know that I have nothing against bass fishermen, and bass in our warmer water areas. In these areas, bass fishing has an economic value. But in the higher altitude “Trout” areas, Trout fishing has a value that is being eroded by the invasion of bass, and the economic value of Trout fishing is not being replaced by a similar economic value of bass fishing. (No bass fishermen that I know of book into lodges in these areas specifically to go bass fishing. Examples of Trout fishermen booking into a venue for the purpose of flyfishing for Trout are too numerous to mention)
There is simply no logic to the silence surrounding the problematic spread of bass in our area.
So what does the problem look like?
When I was a schoolboy, our family visited the Underberg area on holiday. We used to queue each morning at the Underberg Himeville Trout Fishing Club office (UHTFC) to speak to Bill Hughes, and before him Bob Crass, and book water for the day. Some of the waters had bass in them. North End and Palframans spring to mind. There may have been one or two others, but not many more. Now, 30 years later, you struggle to find waters that DON’T have bass in them. Not entirely co-incidentally (and sadly!) , you no longer have to queue outside the offices of UHTFC to book water, and a whole social flyfishing fabric has wasted away.
As a varsity student, I remember one dam in the Kamberg that had bass in it: “Morrass vlei”.
Today you can add:
Windmill; Goose ; Eremia ; Prosperity; the Little Mooi; Sourveldt lower dam; Bracken Waters; Rey estates 2 dams; Airstrip; Meshlyn main dam; and more.
A bass lurks in the shallows of a previously hallowed Trout water.
And remember that in this example I am addressing just the Kamberg valley.
The beautiful Kamberg Valley
When you start tallying dams throughout KZN the list is enormous, and includes some previously famous and treasured Trout waters.
I don’t know about you, but I am horrified!
Remember that the Trout don’t breed in these stillwaters and need to be stocked. The bass, on the other hand, breed like crazy, and once they are in there is very little chance you will ever get rid of them. You can empty the dam and poison it, but farmers understandably don’t want to empty their irrigation dams. Poisoning water is also a touchy subject.
So why are bass a problem. Why can’t we have bass and Trout in the same water?
We can, but most flyfishermen I know, go after Trout, and don’t want to be catching bass. Bass almost seem to have a self defense mechanism wherein they breed like crazy in the face of competition. It seems that way, because when they invade a Trout dam, fishermen report catching literally hundreds of bothersome bass, the vast majority of which are tiny. Now Trout eat small bass (and get very fat on them!), but bass eat small Trout too. So to uphold a Trout venue, when it has bass in it, one needs to buy and stock larger Trout (9 to 12 inch stock fish). These larger fish are mighty expensive. Unless it is a small impoundment, most fishing clubs or lodge owners would drop the stocking of Trout because of the cost, and voila…another Trout water just became a bass water.
So how do bass spread, and what, if anything, can be done about the problem? I will make an attempt at this subject in part 2, but for now I wanted the enormity of the problem to sink in.
* Yes, Trout are spelled using a capital “T” and bass with a lowercase “b”. This is because I am prejudiced, biased, and unscientific.
Bass fisherman compared to Trout fishermen, as depicted by Jack Ohman in his book “Fear of Fly fishing”:
As a youngster, I was conditioned to hate Indian Mynah birds. They were an alien species, made a horrible noise and were often seen chasing other birds away from food. I once witnessed the neighbouring farmer’s wife shooting an Indian Mynah through the sash window , from well within the master bedroom, with a 12 gauge shotgun! KABOOM!
I was not yet a teenager.
That’s got to leave an impression!
But then I noticed the bird appeared in the Roberts Bird book. That was puzzling, because it is not indigenous. And then Mynah bird’s range appeared to retract a bit, and we stopped seeing them on the farm. We only saw them in town. It wasn’t our shooting that did it, they just got clobbered by Newcastle disease, and when they recovered, they fell into a controlled niche on their own and it has been like that ever since.
I am not sure if you are allowed to shoot Mynahs, but either way, you certainly aren’t allowed to shoot them in built up areas , even though they are alien. You can’t ignore one law in order to support another, especially not if it will harm people.
Which brings me to the Trout debate.
As I understand it, the authorities want to make trout an alien invasive ogre, that may be “shot in built up areas”, and which by concession will be allowed to be protected in certain areas, if it takes the fancy of who ever is in charge at the time. But by the stroke of a pen at any time in the future they can be decimated by not allowing their breeding or transport etc.
FOSAF and Trout SA want the same current scenario (only have Trout within their current range), but without the risk of them being wiped out by the stroke of a pen by a zealot in future. They argue that Trout stopped spreading (or more correctly being spread by man) over a hundred years ago in most cases, and that to put Trout at risk in their current range, for fear of them spreading to ranges in which they wont survive anyway, is like taking a loaded RPG launcher to a paintball game. An RPG that could destroy the table Trout, and commercial fly-fishing industry and leave a lot of hungry human mouths.
The state, and its opponents on this one, have poured vast resources into this fight, over decades. Decades in which TRULY invasive species like wattle trees and bass have spread at will. We really have lost our way haven’t we!
I am with Trout SA and FOSAF on this one. I have learnt to tolerate Mynahs. And Mynahs don’t even benefit anyone. I have also learnt to tolerate mielies, peaches, London Planes, kikuyu lawns, and even people.
Well, maybe only some people.
If you are a South African Trout angler, you really cannot afford NOT to be a member of FOSAF.
This is an appeal.
For the cost of a couple of burgers and cokes, click here and join. Just do it!
I still own a rod called “snappy”. Until very recently it was the only rod I had ever broken. In fact, if truth be told, I didn’t break it. The kids did. It was a long time ago, and it got named based on its distinction of having been the rod that snapped. There is nothing original about that nomenclature. I stole it from Neil Patterson. He had written a superb article for Trout Fisherman magazine in the UK. It may be partly because he incorporated that story in his excellent book ”Chalkstream Chronicle”, but I prefer to think I remember the story from way back in ‘85 before he produced the book. The article was called “Bring me a rod and make it snappy”, and chronicled all the awful things he has done to fly rods in his time.
He also had a bright orange rod, which he called “the carrot”, and which kinda rusted at the ferrule on account of him never taking it apart, such that he never could again. That reminds me of my friend Bruce. Bruce once returned a rod to the tackle dealer who had sold it to him, saying that it really wasn’t working for him. On this occasion the South African failed in his bid to evoke the lifetime guarantee thing. I mention it thus because Roger tells me that the South Africans developed a reputation for being more inclined than anyone on the globe to need the lifetime guarantee on an Orvis. In fact Orvis grew suspicious of the motives of the South Africans, and started insisting that a piece be cut from the rod just above the grip and returned as proof that we were not accumulating good sticks. Bruce never got a chance to accumulate another good stick,because the reason his was not quite to his liking, is that not unlike “the carrot”, he had used it in the salt, and it had a reel permanently fixed to the reel seat.
With the advent of us having to prove that we really had broken the things, came a generous supply of awesome Orvis grips and reel seats. I never was a craftsman, and these donations were the perfect shortcut. I could epoxy a blank into the beautifully built Orvis piece, slap on some guides (which sometimes even lined up!) and voila! I had a fly rod. One particular rod was such that the blank rattled around in the grip. No problem, a particular removal company had recently seen fit to drive a 30 ton truck over a rod of mine (catastrophic failure!) , and I was able to cut a sleeve from that, slide the blank into it, and that in turn into the latest Orvis assembly donation. And there you had it: “Elliot” was borne!
I still have Elliot. Its an OK rod. It was the better of two rods that I found lying on the side of the main road. Yes, just lying there in the ditch. The sun glinted on one of the reels and I slammed on anchors and picked them up. I advertised, looking for their owners, but thankfully no one replied, and I reasoned that they were something marginally more honourable than an ill-gotten gain. The second one was appalling. Floppy, with no backbone at all. I acceded to a request to borrow a rod, and lent that one to the bloke in question. He wasn’t a fly-fisherman, so he wouldn’t have noticed the slight quality problem. In any event, he never returned the things he borrowed. He never returned that rod either.
Having built Elliot I was filled with rod builders confidence. So I repaired snappy with a segment donated to me by Roger. I built my son a rod. He still has it. I also built “the pony pole” for an old friend whose interest lies more in riding small tough Lesotho ponies across rugged countryside. I can identify with that particular affliction, since it takes place in Trout country, which is why I built him the rod.
I saw him not so long ago, and I think he said a pony had stood on the rod, before he got to use it. Come to think of it, I built him that rod in exchange for a car radio, the fate of which is long forgotten.
Delirium tremens !
Anyway, snappy fishes just fine, as does the first rod I ever broke , which was earlier this season.
Yes: the first. Remember, one was driven over by a removal truck. The other was slammed behind the car seat by my kids, and I wasn’t even there when the Lesotho pony stood on “the pony pole”. And that first rod I ever broke: In all fairness I didn’t break that one either. The dog did. His name is Ben. He is still alive. Graeme and I walked down a perfectly straight farm road on our way to fish the river. No trees. Fences twenty yards away. Just a straight road, and we both walked with our rods out behind us, as one should do. When we started the rod was fine. At the end of the road when we turned down to the river it was broken. And all we did was chat as we walked. But the dog. Ben. He was excitable, and young, and he bound ahead and then doubled back behind us, stopping to nuzzle us, and bite our hands playfully. So you see….it is simple. The dog bit the rod. It wasn’t me.
Wolff fixed it beautifully for me, and Peter, while I am embarrassed about what I did to John’s rod, it still fishes beautifully, and you can hardly see the repair.
I really do treasure it, I promise.
And it wasn’t me.
It was the dog.
A thin Indian man asked where the gents was. I didn’t know I was part of the establishment. I had only been there ten minutes. I confidently steered him in the direction of the ladies room, and he set off across the lawns with determination. I presume the bewilderment came a little later.
A fat lady stopped in front of the table. She didn’t look down at the books. She looked straight at me and her oversized lips unrolled in a peculiar unfurling motion, followed by an even more peculiar sound. “Good morning!” I proclaimed. She stared straight through me and said nothing. I felt like a mannequin. She did the lip unfurling thing again and made the same odd sound. “Good morning!” I proclaimed with equal volume and enthusiasm as I had a moment before. She waddled off in silence, as the model train trundled past.
I told my family that I knew what this was all about. This idea of manning a table and selling books. In my student years Kevin, PD and I had a table at a girl’s school fete. We demonstrated fly-tying with enthusiasm. That was for about twenty minutes. Fortunately we had brought beer. Beer at a girl’s junior school.
There is not much interest in fly tying at girl’s school fetes, and it doesn’t help to be tucked away around a corner.
The train trundled past again.
Maybe the Sandton brigade that parades these lawns will be interested in a flyfishing book?
“Owe Da-hling, the kids are jaast playing p-hut-p-hut. We will be along in a seccy. Did you find Derek? Let’s have some coffee shall we. Soop-her!” Lots of gold jewellery and tight jeans, some on bums where they belong. Some definitely not. Sausages.
The train trundles past again.
Two young girls come asking if I have any Agatha Christie titles. “Never heard of her” I want to say. Men stand on the porches, in casual clothes. Shorts and slops. Hands in pockets. Bellies hanging out just a little more than they perhaps planned. I can see they have escaped the corporate world for the Easter week-end. They have endured 5 hours at the wheel. Now they are spending top dollar on some quaint B & B, and they are lurking while their wives spend what is left on the credit card. Three days of this, five more hours in the car, and they will be back behind their desks. What the hell makes them tick. Not fly-fishing. Not books.
The bloody train goes past again.
The Indian man comes past a second time. He must have survived his trip to the ladies room, but he is not asking me for any more guidance. He is returning from the car, where he collected his banana, and now he takes up a position on a bench and eats it in a painfully deliberate way, facing me but noticing nothing but his own fruit.
The damned noisy train-full of kids passes again.
A middle aged woman approaches. Everyone says she should write a book. She is not sure if it will be any good. How does she start, she wants to know. I encourage her. She is a lovely lady. “Just get out a pen and write” I say. At the prospect of having to commit, to actually get started, she retracts. I can see it in her body language. She paints too. She could do her own cover. “What will you write about?” I ask her. She hasn’t thought about that and the question scares her off, and she leaves as the train trundles past. Again.
“Sunil” comes to chat to me. He is from Durban (and all). He is staying at a hotel. The one between the freeway and the railway line. “You all so lucky here man” he says. “Fresh air and all”. “What this book?” he wants to know. “Ay! Nice man. Well done. Good luck man”
That train. It has a lot of adults on it. Many are not accompanied by kids. Their facial expressions are interestingly dull for someone on a fun-ride.
Alan and Lynn drop by, and we catch up on their family matters. They are just taking is easy. Sauntering. They love the book. But they don’t fish.
The train’s bloody whistle is now working.
Someone tries to buy the painting that I have on display. Another asks if the book is about painting. Some youngster lies down on the rails in front of the train as it approaches and his friends get a picture of him, just in time before it rolls past.
Mothers wander past with all manner of prams. Prams with decals and suspension systems that look like they belong on cars. Some babies sleep, granting the parents thirty meters of peace, sometimes even more! Others just scream and smear once edible substances over themselves and everything in reach. The Dads get their turn too. What a lovely outing.
Someone brings grandad. He is 103 years old. He bustles along with surprising agility and then takes up a position in the shade, where he reverses the walker and sits watching the train, which whistles on its way past again.
I sit and stare at the people and wonder if there is more than this for them. Petro assures me that there is. “They probably did a good hike in the mountains yesterday, and this is their rest day”. My scepticism isn’t buying it. I don’t see scratched skin, or a stained shirt, or a worn pair of shoes. I just see bling and boredom.
I start wondering what it would take to derail a small scale train. The rails measure about 30mm each, and are about 400mm apart. The coaches weigh 200Kg each, and can take 600Kg of smiling kids (complete with bored looking adult companions). They say a coin on one of the rails can dispatch a big one.
And the $%#@!>* train passed again.
My misanthropic, antisocial and reclusive tendencies thoroughly reinforced, and with the rays of the sun cutting in low from the west, we pack up. Just before I carry the last box to the bakkie I have a perverse thought of riding the train, but just as suddenly I realise that to ride it would be to let it get the better of me, so I shake my head to clear it, and get the hell out of there.
I need home, and I need the hills.
PS. Rupert stopped by. Nice guy. He is a flyfisherman. We talked knot strength and how long one should expect a co-polymer leader to last. He had lost a few fish the day before. Windknots.
Thank you Rupert
We fished on up the stream. If anyone had been watching, and this far up there definitely would have been no one, but if they had, they would have seen two tough fly-fishermen. Fly-fishermen far from the comfort of a cottage or a car. Far even from a cave, or any other shelter, and plying their nymphs rhythmically and unaffected by the approaching storm. Relaxed fishermen, confident in their plodding steps. Bold and unaffected men. Guys who maintained a singular focus on the finesse and accuracy of their casts. Guys, who in the face of a darkening and foreboding sky, paused and considered a change in fly pattern, which they then exercised unhurriedly.
The old man wore a wide brimmed hat of gunmetal grey. It was one of those with hard deep stitching, that keeps its shape and looks as timeless as it does serious. Beneath it he clenched his teeth against the fine nylon and expertly pulled the new knot snug and tight. He handled the nylon with a ceremonial tug to check the knot, even though he knew it was good. Then he swung the rod tip out, carefully peering about with narrowed eyes to check that the leader swung free for the cast. It snagged a little on his sleeve and he gave the rod a short shove, pushing the slightest pulse of energy into the trailing line, and bouncing the tippet off the snag. Then in a smooth movement he pushed out a loop, allowing the fly to rest briefly on the wind ruffled grey water surface in front of him. The fly plopped in a way that satisfied him, and he lifted off into a smooth cast, delivering more line until the rod loaded and the fly was on its merry way into the run.
Into the run, piercing the surface and immediately entering the competition of currents and gravity in that mysterious watery place below. With the brisk and swirling wind, and the sudden absence of sunlight, what was below the water was obscured from view. Earlier sun patterns had danced on yellow and ochre stones on the streambed, and the hope of spotting Trout was real. Now the surface shone and glistened in a low silvery light. Each wavelet gave off a face of black and a face of grey. Neither were bright, or welcoming. Both were greeted by an ominous roll of thunder. A deep, close, and threatening rumble. A rumble as deep and throaty as that of a large dog that means business, but at a volume which signaled a storm threatening more than a mere hound could ever do. The reverberating rumble seemed to narrow the valley. I looked about nervously, as if looking for an escape route. I wasn’t. I was trying to get a sense of how imminent the storm might be. No looking around would answer that. There was no need to answer that. The storm was definitely on its way. There was no question that things would get worse.
I looked downstream at the old man. He was un affected. He plucked his nymph from the slick grey surface, and using the tug of resistance on the departing line, he loaded the rod in first one and then another line shooting stroke. He angled the line slightly further out into the current than the previous cast, and placed the fly like a croupier places the first card on the felt of the table. Placing it down on an exact spot selected quickly but purposefully and without doubt.
The wind swung wildly for a moment, ripping my line from the water a few inches. I cast quickly, more to get the line out of a potential tangle. Just to get it out there where a fisherman would. And with it out of the way I glanced nervously about and back down at the old man. His face was set in concentration. His focus somehow seemed to smooth the lines of his weathered face, and as so often happens, his unabated enthusiasm placed a youthful spring in his apparent demeanour. His eyes attempted to pierce the dull gun metal water surface, but they danced at the same time. They were light and receptive in their gaze. Young and inspired in their quest to find a Trout. His shoulders were hunched forward. His feet were anchored in the current that swirled about his shins. His mind was occupied with his quest, and another loud crack of lightning was in some parallel world in which he had yet to show interest.
I swung my gaze back and cast furtively, and only because it is what one does when one is standing in a river. The old man’s toughness gave no home to my nervousness. I retrieved too fast and looked back up at the sky, trying to assess its intentions, its earnestness. The hilltops were obscured in cloud now, and the cliffs up at the head of the valley had long disappeared. The cloud hung low enough that we were almost in its mist. A mist white as linen in places, but thin enough in others that the deep dark thunderclouds could not hide themselves. The light had suddenly gone out of our valley, and a darkness the nature of which foretold of endings, enveloped the exposed grasslands. The valley became small and intimate in a way that made me claustrophobic. Large raindrops suddenly let loose from the sky and pelted the brim of my hat and the grass stems that hugged my calves as I strode from the shallow stream, winding my reel furiously as I went. I wound the fly clean up to the end eye of the rod, keeping the rod tip low and not daring to wave it as high as I would have needed to hook the fly into the keeper ring.
The raindrops had moved the old man. I shot him a glance. Mine was a fearful glance. One of someone trapped and wondering where help might come from. He returned the glance, at first seriously and with determination, and then he broke into an easy smile. A warm comforting smile that shone through the now furious deluge of raindrops. He stowed his fly carefully in the keeper ring, and I waited for him to draw up alongside me.
The old man had hiked not only these mountains, but those above us, many times in his youth. I knew what to do, but he was practiced in what to do. He said nothing. I said the obvious. “Let’s put the rods down here” I shouted above the din of the storm, “and go sit it out in the open over there”. He nodded.
I dropped my rod quickly and scuttled to a spot worthy of the place name “over there”. He looked around as if to get his bearings, and placed his rod deliberately beside mine, taking a moment to re arrange it slightly. It was as if he were choosing a spot in a room for a piece of furniture.
I was already huddled over my own knees. I had checked my rain jacket and drawn it tight over as much of my being as I could. The hood was up over my head and secured by the drawstring and my eyes were narrowed against the stinging rain. My head was bowed low, as if to avoid the next bolt of lightning, which came quick enough. I was trying to make myself smaller than I already felt.
The old man’s shoulders were drawn confidently back. His rain jacket was zipped closed, but not to the last tooth of the zip. The various drawstrings swung loose from his jacket, un used and apparently not needed. He strode over towards me slower than I am able to walk even in good weather. He sat down beside me, but not close enough for us to achieve conversation in the roar of the storm.
We sat it out there. Our Trout water was barely visible through the haze of stinging rain. Our ear drums were beaten by thunder so much louder than those first peels. The grass about us was drenched and rivulets flowed under us wetting our backsides with water a whole lot colder than the morning stream.
When it was over, the sun returned quickly to the valley. It came in from the west, piercing through under the last drifting clouds as suddenly as the relief and bravery washed over me. I sported a furtive smile of relief, and tried not to give away my surprise at having made it out alive. I failed and grinned stupidly for a moment. The old man’s face lit more sedately, and he delivered a creeping and unmoved smile of knowledge, self assuredness and comfort.
He stood up slowly , and started for the rods.
“I think I am going to switch to the dry fly” he said over his shoulder, as he plodded back to to his rod, and the stream beyond, at the same speed at which he had left it earlier.
#BRU Restoring the Umgeni as a trout stream
IT'S ABOUT TROUT, SIGHT FISHING AND DRY FLY TRICKERY
The Journal of a farmer, parent, and a small stream fly fishing enthusiast
...the obvious rarely is
Our Home is found on Intimate Trout Waters
time is precious. use it fishing
Base Camp for Fly Fishing Trips, Travel, Gear, Reviews and News
Steve Culton's fly fishing and fly tying articles, videos, essays, and reports
Waters & words
'because fly lines are wild snakes that need to be tamed'
Waters & words
Waters & words
A new way of looking at Fly Fishing. Fly Fishing photography, video, tips and talk
Waters & words
Waters & words
The aim of this blog is to connect ﬂy-tyers all over the world, to share, techniques, patterns, information and knowledge.
Waters & words
Waters & words
Waters & words
Waters & words
Photography, Fly fishing, Life, Visuals & Fun
Waters & words
Waters & words
Waters & words
Adventures in Fly Fishing, Hiking, and Natural History
My blog is an ongoing celebration of my passion for all that embodies small stream fly fishing, incorporating my interests in photography, the outdoors and art.
A Blog for the Contemplative Angler and Outdoorsperson
My Fly Fishing & Tying story over 42 years...
The Fly Fishing Blog