Several years ago I was lucky enough to join a Kombi load of fly-fishermen, and travel down to the unlikely destination of Somerset East in the Cape to get some trout.
On that trip, Maurice Broughton and I were assigned a beat on the tiny Naude’s river, and with our guide, we had an enjoyable morning hunting trout in the better pools.
At lunchtime we found a lovely willow tree growing in a patch of lush grass beside a pool in the stream.
We settled down to some sandwiches, and if memory serves, a chilled bottle of wine!
While we were sitting there, enjoying the tranquil setting, a small trout began rising at the head of the pool. He rose a few times, right up in the funnel. Right up where the water cascaded over some stone into the pool.
He only rose a few times and then stopped. Maurice and I began to postulate as to what he might be taking. We decided it was a terrestrial of some sort, because nothing was hatching, but a light breeze buffeted the veld grass beside the water.
It was then that we decided to have some fun.
I crept on my belly up to where he was rising. Maurice went in search of a live hopper, which he dropped into the fast water just above. I stayed in position to watch the reaction.
The fish actually ignored the hopper and took something else, but it was then that I realised how close he was, because his rise actually splashed my face!
From this close I also soon noticed another occupant of this fishes’ lie. Immediately below him was a crab. Quite a big one, but certainly not big enough to have tackled the little trout. Crab was apparently angry at trout. Trout was in his way. Perhaps stealing the food that the current was supposed to be bringing him. So the crab lunged up into the current, and grabbed the trout by the tail!
He was not able to hold on of course, but he gave a good nip anyway. I quickly beckoned to Maurice, and we lay there side by side in the grass, and witnessed how the crab had a go at the trout several times, until the trout gave up and retreated down into the pool!
On another occasion I spotted a small trout on the lovely Bokspruit in the North Eastern Cape. He was lying in thin water, on a lightly coloured gravel bottom.
This meant that he was easy to see. I was just walking alongside the river when I saw him. I immediately dropped to my knees, and merely watched him from my grassy hideout.
The fish finned away in the current. Occasionally he darted forward to grab something, but more often he lifted off the bottom, and then dropped back. He seldom moved very far, except that once or twice he roared off across the river, and ate something with gusto, before returning to exactly the same spot. There was nothing special about this fish, but he was close. I looked to try and see what he was eating, but whatever it was it must have been mighty small, for I could not see anything at all. I took my camera out, and with a 200 zoom, took a picture of him. He was a little fellow, and his presence in the stream beside me contributed to the serenity of those few minutes. I left him there, and went looking for bigger fish.
I have one other photo of trout swimming free, and that one is a little more spectacular. It was taken with a standard lens, and yet the trout do a good job of filling the frame. This was not taken in a hatchery like you might think, but up at Highmoor. It was mid winter and the dams there were closed, but I took a drive up there with the family, and we hiked up to the top dam for the hell of it.
As we arrived, I said to my father in law, that if he walked quietly along the northern shore, he stood a chance of seeing fish performing their nuptials.
Sure enough he spotted several fish and called me over. They were large. Very large in my book! I estimated that they were all four to six pounds, minimum. In fact I think they were even bigger than that, but let me not lose the reader’s trust!
I quickly got out my camera, and leopard crawled to the edge, which was a few feet above the water. Unfortunately, even crawling as I was, my shadow was thrown onto the water by the sun, which was low in the sky. Despite this I was able to “let off a round” with the camera. There was only to be one frame though, because my film had come to an end. As an experiment, I then proceeded to slowly stand up. Immediately I did so the fish darted away, and it was some time before they returned.
I then rushed back to the office and booked Highmoor for opening day.
Last year, on the upper Bell, I had a truly wonderful day of fishing. One small incident however, stands out in my mind. I had been walking upstream catching lovely rainbows of around three-quarters of a pound. At one particular spot, I saw a perfect place from which to fish the pool above. At that point the river was interrupted by a couple of large slabs of rock strewn in the riverbed. The impasse had created the long deep pool above.
One of those rocks stood on its side in the river like a great big sheet, providing a waist high screen from behind which to cast. On the downstream side of this rock, was another one, which provided the place to stand.
I quickly rock hopped across to this spot, and took up position. Having surveyed the pool, and decided where to cast, I glanced down as I took the fly from the keeper, and there I saw a trout!
Right at my feet was a small crevice between the two rocks, and clearly this gap could be entered from somewhere below, because right there, a few inches from my toe, was a richly coloured rainbow, of damn near a pound.
The scene reminded me of that incident in “the killing fields”, where the poor bloke had stood on a landmine detonator, but had had the sense not to lift his foot. Immediately he did, he would be blown to bits!
My consequences were less dire, but immediately I moved, the trout would be gone.
So like the man on the detonator, I stayed still, and said my goodbyes. The trout finned away peacefully, and I watched it, while I held my breath. What lovely creatures they are! Stippled beauties! This one was particularly rich in hue, with a peach coloured streak down its side. Like all the trout on that stretch, it was very densely speckled with small black spots.
A moment later I scratched my nose, and he was gone.