The onset of winter
This morning as my vehicle sputtered reluctantly to life, it coughed out a slug of yesterday’s dust through the air-vents, long before it breathed any warmth into the frigid cab. The dust in question was the only pervading reminder of our travels in Trout country.
I had been a dastardly day. High wind, coming out of either the South or the West or some cold place in between. Wind that , having touched some sparse dirty snow somewhere, then thrashed the surface of the dams into icy whitecaps.
We tried to fish of course. The canoe was duly launched, and wrapped in heavy jackets and beanies, we climbed clumsily aboard and dug the oars deeply into the crystal clarity of a deep green lake. On arrival at our normal spot we dropped anchor. More correctly, we dropped both anchors. Heavy weather calls for such measures. PD asked for instructions on the anchor protocol. “Just throw the thing overboard” I yelled into the wind. And he did.
The anchor my end had lost the cable tie linking the chain to the top end. In other words it was in “easy extraction mode”, with the chain pulling against the splay of the tines. I cursed for not having put a new one on when it broke on a previous trip, but lowered the anchor anyway. No time for fiddling around now. Since stopping paddling we had already drifted 20 yards, and beside there was a good anchor at the other end. This one would just stop the yawing.
I fished badly. I had on a large dragon. The sort of adequately sized, fierce thing, that breaking waves seem to call for. No size 16 nymphs for these conditions. The thing whistled between us over the gunwales and lurched out into the wind landing badly on a blown over leader, and started to sink. But no sooner had it started it’s descent, than I was ripping it back, trying to gain control of the gathering loops of line that the wind and our drift had put there.
Funny thing that drift. We were supposed to be anchored.
It soon dawned on me that we had drifted enough that we were now in deep water, and both anchors were hanging uselessly off the bottom. Rods into the holders, cold hands on ropes. Knots undone, anchors down deep again.
Back to fishing badly.
PD hooked an anchor rope. Extract one anchor, free the fly, down again. We had lost another 50 yards in our one anchor condition.
And so it went.
When the waves threatened to thrash my lovely craft into the rocks on the dam wall I, as captain of the craft, ordered anchors up. To my bemusement I saw PD’s one come up…folded. No traction at all. “But you told me to just chuck it overboard, and I did as ordered!” , he grinned from beneath his beanie. Yes I had said that!
We had breakfast in the lee of the wind beside the vehicle. And after we tried another fishing mission with similar frustrations, we agreed to retreat for more coffee and a new game plan. The temperature was officially some 8 degrees, but there was serious wind chill on top of that. We decided the cab was a better place to be, so we set off on a drive around the farm.
Powdery dust whipped from the wheels and sent brown clouds scuttling off over the veld wherever we went. We drove onto the ridge and had a look at Dale’s dam from the top of the hill. The wind was running the length of the dam, the whitecaps getting progressively bigger as they disappeared behind the hill to the North. No fun to be had there. At the stream we stopped and went for a walk to look down into the gorge. I wanted to show PD the secret stretch down in the valley that I wanted to fish in the spring. It looked a long way down. I shall have to get fit for that!
Back to the truck, up over the hill to the dam that leaks. It was particularly low, and dust from the margins was blowing across the water surface in great big choking swirls.
On to the old dam, where despite the crashing waves, we could see the channel that has opened up in the weed. A mental note to come back with a float tube in calm weather.
A herd of Eland on the hill. Four buck at the cattle lick area…Rhebuck or Mountain Reedbuck. They looked like the former from where we were. Differentiating is a skill we will have to hone. PD added it to his mental list of things to do.
Jackal. Wattled crane.
Crowned crane near the inlet. Another Jackal skulking away between the cattle. A few more dusty gate stops, and we turned North West up onto the back farm to see what we could find there. At the old ruins we stopped and walked up onto the ridge. We thought we would be able to see the neighbours dam from there, but we had our geography a little wrong, so we walked along to the end of the ridge where there is a mast of sorts. This was new territory for us. As we walked past the tower, its stay wires howling in the wind, a vista opened up for us. We spent a short while pointing out distant roads, hidden valleys, dams, farm boundaries, that sort of thing. This is a kind of deep compass orientation thing that PD and I do. We do it from mountain tops and high ridges in Trout country whenever we can. It settles us, in a way that compliments general ageing and improvement of judgement.
On the way back my ears started to hurt from the cold, and that was with them tucked inside the beanie! I pulled my hood on, cutting out much chance of further communication, and we scuttled back along the ridge looking for the vehicle. Back down the hill. Check the fish trap, collect the canoe, close the last gate, and beat a retreat off the high ground.
We will be back, with thermals, more hot coffee, and rougher, drier skin. Perhaps we will get a big dark angry jawed Trout next time. Who knows? It is winter now.