Waters & words : a celebration of flyfishing

A day on the Mooi

“You will hear the silence of the folded hillside brushed by the wind in its grasses..”

(Neville Nuttall)

small brown

The other day I grasped an opportunity to go out on the river alone. From time to time I have this urge for the utter solitude and peace of being alone on the water for a full day. In fact I have that urge most weekends, and seldom get to fulfill the dream. So when this particular late September day dawned, I woke with my soul upon the lip of the precipice, ready to soar. I was happy. I left my bed with a sense of freedom and liberation. I had awoken early. The kids were baby-sat.

All was well until I reached the bedroom window and drew back the curtain a few inches to inspect the conditions. It had been raining. In fact my memory was suddenly jogged that in the half sleep of the bewitching hour, I had heard a thunderstorm and the drumming of the gutters. It was now cold and miserable. I stepped back and pondered the situation briefly, and then looked again.

In an attempt not to allow my day to be derailed I took note of the fact that it was not yet actually raining, although it looked heavy and foreboding. The ground was partially dry, and the cloud quite high. It could well hold off. All I needed was to be well prepared.

As I went about my early morning plans I packed everything I might need. I stacked ample food and hot coffee into the cooler. I packed both my still water and river fishing tackle, I took a waterproof and a heavy jacket, and off I went.

In life we often come upon rough weather, and I think that of the ways of approaching such adversity can be categorised into only two types. The positive approach and the negative approach, but more of this later.

As I progressed up the freeway, I encountered first light rain, and then a steady drizzle, which worsened into a downpour of impressive proportions.

I kept on driving. I put my outlook for the day on hold and kept on going, deeper into the storm. At Nottingham road I stopped to fill my float tube with air. While I had planned to fish a river, there is something miserable about being on a river in the rain, and a still water in these conditions is more tolerable. I completed this, but it was still raining.

I decided to call my good friend PD who lives just down the road. He was most gracious in welcoming me into his home for a cup of coffee, lest my drive should be totally in vain. I invaded his house at an hour so early that he greeted me in his pyjamas. We sat in his kitchen and devoured his wife’s rusks, and engaged in the conversation that belongs to old friends.

In my hectic work life I have a great deal of time at the office with work associates, and the balance of my time is grabbed with both hands by my family who like to have me around for some odd reason. Then there is my need for solitude that takes me away from all that at times, and scarce little is left for the development of friendships. This is particularly so as our family are not great socialites.

And so it is that I greatly value the friendships that I do have, and attempt to cultivate them within the limitations imposed upon me by my circumstances.

PD is one such friend. In fact he is the friend who understands me best, and these chance times of companionship are valuable. I always marvel at those TV sitcoms where the couple has a constant stream of friends through their kitchen, engaging in warm conversation and humour. Their houses are always tidy; the kids drop in for a brief interaction and then disappear without a demand. The friends are there daily and there are several of them. Utopia! For me it is once or twice in a month that we get to sit around and chat with a friend without having to rush off somewhere to bath a child or work or something.

By about half past nine the rain had stopped and the cloud appeared to be lifting. I bade my good friend farewell, and headed out, up the Kamberg valley.

The cloud seemed high and I regained further enthusiasm as I headed West. I crossed the river at Riverside farm, and it was sparkling. I drove down the Southern side of the valley crossing several more tributaries as I progressed. All were beautifully clean.

I parked the bakkie at the appointed spot and set up my tackle. This was going to be good! I strode out across the veld, heading for the lower boundary. Starting at that point would give me several kilometers of river to fish up before I came level with the vehicle again by late afternoon. I cut across the fields, using the Kamberg mountain as my beacon, and heading for its eastern end. This would take me straight to the cairn I built above the river on a previous trip, and from there I would navigate by sight of the river to the bottom boundary. I arrived at the cairn to look down at the river.

It was dirty.

At this point I could have wept, or gone home to beat the dog. (The negative approach) Or I could convince myself that it was not dirty. It was in fact cloudy. Still fishable perhaps. I was too far from the water to be sure. I could press on. (The positive approach). There is one individual I know very well who would have chosen the former, guaranteed. I chose the latter. I pressed on.

I wonder what it is that makes one person proceed with a positive outlook when faced with adversity, and another to give in and complain. I don’t claim any accolade for my own disposition, for it was probably not me who achieved it, but rather something that was included in my make-up. Furthermore, I do not always choose the positive route, even if it may appear so outwardly. I often find myself feeling decidedly negative and struggling to keep up appearances. There are days at work where I find I am achieving little, and would rather be sleeping on the couch at home. There are times when my children are plain irritating to me and I would rather be at my desk at work with cool air conditioning and quiet order. I become grouchy and ineffective, My fuse gets shorter, and I give up on what I am doing too early. There are days on the water when I get hot or cold, and I come in for shelter, while friends stay out there and out-fish me as a result. So perhaps I am essentially positive, but my staying power is limited and needs work.

This day I worked on that staying power, and consciously so. I think if you are blessed with the positive outlook you can work on your staying power. What on earth you do to get the positive attitude is beyond me. As a positive person, negative people frustrate me. I so desperately want them to experience the positive outlook with all its joys and pleasures. But how does one do that? How do you get a person to shake the shroud of negativism? I suspect that if you have ever attempted this you will have found that you can take the horse to the water, and you can even feed it salt……

Arriving at the water’s edge I stepped straight in and worked the first run with a weighted nymph. The fly was going out smoothly. The water was off colour but certainly not too murky for the fish to see my fly. I could see the strike indicator clearly, and I watched it with anticipation as it passed the spot where I caught a fish once before. The water was an almost perfect 15 degrees C. The air was a lot colder, but if I could just catch a fish then the day would be swung in the direction of success. Right now the jury was out. It could go either way.

Then it started to rain. Just a few drips at first. I stopped fishing and put my waterproofs on. By the third pool, the heavens opened. There I was standing in three feet of cold water, with more of it running down my neck, and no fish to show for it. Lightening struck, the strike indicator sunk from the bombardment and thunder sounded. I assessed the situation. There was no shelter out there. The bakkie was several kilometers away, and the fish that I had come so far to catch, were still in the river. I plucked up all the strength in me and fished on in the pouring rain.

So then He threw hail at me. They were small stones, I will acknowledge, but it was hail nonetheless. I have caught fish in these conditions before. I pressed on.

The hail was short-lived, but it had the effect of cooling everything down a little further. By the time I reached the next stretch I was freezing cold. I paused beneath a tree and took off my outer layers to put on an extra pullover, which I had packed in plastic in my fly vest. This must all have looked a bit silly. There I was wading wet up to my waist, and putting extra clothing on the top half in order to warm up. What we don’t do for our fish!

The fish were most un-co-operative that first hour and a half. I fished all the old runs and pools that had produced fish for me before, without success. Then I threw bigger heavier flies at them. Somehow this has always been my instinctive strategy when the going gets tough. A sort of policy of resorting to the mean and nasties in my fly box.

Then finally in what I call “magic pool” at a spot directly below the cairn, I hooked and landed a feisty brown trout. Its capture was accompanied by the unlikely emotion of relief. It was almost as though the capture of this fish meant that my trip had not been in vain. My decision to stay on and fish had been vindicated.

I fished on up, wading and crossing the river as I went, and shivering all the while. The next good piece of water was approaching, and as it was the last water before my planned lunch stop, I resolved to fish it thoroughly and well. The rain had stopped by now, and I suspect the air had warmed a degree or two, although I was simply too cold to feel it. I found some confidence deep within me, and I hoarded it for the approaching pool. I had caught a good fish there on the previous trip.

As I rounded the bend, there was another rod.

I was dismayed.

I had been convinced that I was the only one with the resolve and dedication to walk so far down this valley on a cold and rainy day. I was suffering in the cold, but confident that in re telling of this day, I would stand out as the one and only who had braved these elements with such determination. And here in front of me was another. He was on my water. He was fishing my lunch pool. Is it not intriguing how when we have suffered for something in whatever way, we become so defensive of it. Our pride and selfishness comes to the fore with such ease.

I could have said to myself “This is a bum cold day on the river and he can have it”. But at that moment it was my day of solitude. They were my hours alone on the water, and his presence was a theft. Perhaps I am a narcissistic individual, but that was how I felt. I buried the hatchet though, and greeted the man, who turned out to be a wholesome fellow, who could fish my beat any day.

Following the loss of that particular pool (and yes, I still felt I had suffered a loss), I made my way up the hill and located the small crevice in which I had hid my lunch earlier in the day. I found a rock shaped like a seat on a steep section of hillside. There I sat down, with my feet dangling over the edge, and consumed hot coffee, and plenty of it. That was one of the better cups of coffee I have ever had. It was the cheap instant kind, but you must remember that the temperature had not yet risen above 10 degrees C, and I had been shivering uncontrollably for the last hour. The coffee was interspersed with dark chocolate, cold cous cous salad and chopped Russian sausage. An unusual meal perhaps, but memorable nonetheless.

From my perch I watched as Joe Bloggs disappeared downstream. I lingered a while longer with a view to restoring the ambience of solitude, and when I felt it had been re-set, I descended. On the way down I noticed a fish rise in ‘scissors run’, and my enthusiasm for the fishing returned. Upon my arrival at the waters edge I noticed that there was a hatch of small gray mayflies. This hatch intensified over the hour that followed, and the fish began rising regularly.

Some interesting fishing ensued. The fish became very selective, and gorged themselves on these flies to the exclusion of all else. They chose to ignore my small ‘Adams’, which was a remarkably close match to the naturals. They did however respond to a ‘Woolly Bugger’ stripped right through the rise, and I landed four fish in this short stretch.

I moved on up from there in high spirits. It was no warmer than it had been and it was windy, but the rain had stopped, and I had caught fish. My legs were still wet and I continued to shiver, but my outlook was so completely altered by just one or two changes in circumstance. Is it not surprising how this is often so in life? Two individuals experience marginally different fates at some juncture, and they respond in slightly different ways and before you know it their paths are leading in opposite directions for the rest of their existence. It is in light of my sensitivity to this phenomenon that I spend so much time in contemplation. In fact my need to be alone on the water is driven in part by this need for reflection. When not on the water my thinking time takes place late at night in my favourite armchair. This often takes place with the lights off, and the curtains open. There I sit doing absolutely nothing but looking out into the dim moonlight and thinking. I gladly do this for an hour or so, and given half a chance I do so every night.


Yes, I know, but it is in these times that I formulate my world policy and choose my life direction. I sometimes pray a bit. I design my dream house, and invent new trout flies. I dream up new stories and poems, and I reminisce about days like this one on the river.

Some distance further upstream I came out at Tekwaan pool. The fish in this pool are very bored, and they rise and splash about most of the time to break the tedium. You can bet on it. This day was no exception.

Dave Prentice

At the foot of this long pool there were three fish moving. It always surprises me how in a clear pool like this, one can see the river bed a clear as daylight, and at the same time you can see rises on the surface, but the fish are nowhere to be seen. They are just so incredibly camouflaged, and only sometimes, if the light is right can you spot them. I could not spot these ones, but they sure saw me, and my fly line. On the first cast I had a take, but missed the fish. After that only one continued to rise, and two casts later he too was spooked. Lesson learnt, I moved up towards the head of the pool with more guile. Here I found a spot where I could stand close to the waters edge, with the steep bank rising behind me, and thus with the absence of a silhouette to the fish, I tricked several of them to ingest my size 14 DDD. I landed two of them.

What surprised me was how, being close to the surface and therefore with a narrow window of sight, I could fool a fish just inches from where his colleague had just fallen prey to my same antics.

It was a little like us humans who repeat failures made so recently by our peers. In particular we seem to repeat the mistakes of the previous generation. In this fast and frenetic world we seem to have forgotten the wisdom of our fathers, in the mistaken belief that their BC existence lacks relevance today. (BC meaning ‘before computers’) And yet as I grow in maturity the clarity of their often stoic and considered ways begins to shine through in gleaming pockets. I still of course am frustrated by mother, who can not (read ‘will not’), learn how to use the VCR or adopt e-mail as a friend. And yet if us youngsters can learn to look through those things, perhaps we would not throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. And even if our elders cannot tell us something, I believe that we should watch them and secretly pass judgement on them in our minds in assessing the life choices that they have made, because of course their follies become apparent in their later lives.

A mistake that I too often repeat, is to avoid fishing the fast pocket water in a river. On that day I had walked past countless metres of such prime water. Now as I approached the run below picnic rock, I chose to remedy that by covering this stretch of water with more care. I have recently began to adopt the concept that if I can just get my fly, or in the case of a nymph my strike indicator, to drift drag free to a quick count to ten, then I am in with a chance. So on this day I found myself throwing the fly into the odd smooth patch which appeared to have some depth, and counting to ten. Even in very fast water a tuck cast, or the stop and drop technique can give you this much free drift before the fly is swept away. Occasionally you fail and don’t get beyond five, but I just pluck the fly out and toss it back sharply. You will find that with such a low requirement of your skills you can use simple mend technique to cast a floating line clean across the river, and across multiple currents at a likely looking spot under the opposite bank, and still narrowly meet the ‘rule of ten’. I did exactly this on that raw afternoon. I threw the fly into a smooth dark glide with a trouty look, hard against the opposite bank. On cast number three and still not having made it past a count of nine I finally got a better drift, and a strong little Brown.

A few yards further up I fooled another right under my nose, and casting only the leader, but he came off.

At this point I had reached picnic rock, and my most obvious spot to climb out of the valley. I reeled in, collected my flask and lunch box, and headed out of there.

It was a content man who drove down the valley in the swirling mist that afternoon. A change of clothes, the warmth of my heater, and the sounds of a good rock band over the stereo seemed to crown the event.

Of course had it not been for an over optimistic outlook on the weather that morning, none of it would have happened. And had I not worked on that staying power, I might have driven a long round trip, having only gotten wet and cold and little else.

My day could so easily have developed along a different route. I could well have been sitting at my desk on Monday morning bemoaning the weekend spent loafing around at home, and a sense of under achievement.

Instead I had a spectacular day, which will be etched on my memory forever. I saw an Oribi, two reedbuck, a Jackal buzzard attacking an Egyptian goose, a giant kingfisher, and only one person. In addition I saw life, and my life, more clearly. When I returned, those who stayed at home were unchanged. They look at me and ponder (very briefly), what it is that makes me so fanatical about this silly fishing thing.

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