Journeys through the journal (3)
On the last Saturday of September last year, Mike and I headed out to Riverside on the upper Mooi river. This stretch of river is club water, and is on a dairy farm that sits within the “U” shape formed by the KZN parks area of Kamberg Nature reserve.
We were blessed with a pleasant sunny day, the temperature peaking at just twenty two degrees C, and the occasional light gust of wind.
One parks under some plane trees at the farm entrance and fishes upstream from there.
This is classic KZN river water for me. Quite high river banks, through which runs a stream, deep and moody in its big pools, and light and babbling over sheets of shelf-rock in other places, with just occasional rapids through a tumble of jagged rocks or rounded pebbles. You generally wade up until it gets too deep, then you clamber out and go around the head of the pool, where you slither down the bank again. In mid summer your forays out of the river involve pushing through grass and maize higher than your head, with the odd fence or bramble bush to keep you on your toes. But in September, while it has turned green, the fields are dusted in short grass, large areas are burned, and the going is really very easy.
The other aspect of KZN rivers that I consider “classic”, is the small Brown Trout. Little happy fish, that you can catch almost at will on a good day, and which all but disappear when they decide to. This is what one expects on Riverside, and is what we have caught for many, many years. A 12 inch fish is a good one. A 15 inch fish is excellent.
A typical size Brown from Riverside on the Mooi
My logbook for that day fails to record what Mike caught. Apologies Mike: I must have been caught up in the excitement of the luck that came my way that day.
At around midday, having landed one six inch fish, I arrived at a pool with an unusual shelf of rock. The river flows straight at the leading edge of the rock, and half of it pushes in underneath, where it has cut a deep dark well for itself. The balance of the water wells up over the top. When approaching this from downriver, and when the river is a bit low, as it was that day, you see a straight line of raised water clear across the stream. It is really quite strange.
(Note the line of welling water , across the centre of this photo)
Getting a fly in under there on a drag free drift is probably impossible. One looks at it and hankers for a fast sinking line and a streamer, because something large could live in there!
There are spots like this all along the Mooi: They scream “Big Trout” at you, but when you do get a fly in there, out comes a nine inch fish. It defies reason, but one gets used to it.
So I looked at this underwater cave again, and while I was thinking thoughts of lead, and big flies, I noticed a small rise up in the shallow water at the head of this pool.
Not having seen a rise all morning, I thought it would be fun to get something on the dry fly. So I sat down on the bank, and did some running repairs to my 5X tippet, and tied on a general dry: a little #16 CDC and Elk. While I was doing that the fish rose again. It was rising in really shallow water, where the sun penetrated and lit up the entire river bed of pale rock, so that anything there was entirely visible, but for a bit of a dappled effect.
I looked closer at the third rise, because there was a disturbance some distance from the rise as well. That was the fish’s tail!
Hands trembling, I finished tying on the fly. Then I measured up the approach from where I was sitting, not daring to move for fear of alerting the fish to my presence. With a plan of attack in mind, I then half crawled, half slithered down the river bank. From there I inched forward, tight against the bank, and with the fish in clear view. I had decided not to risk a long cast, so I moved in quite close.
Gaining my chosen position, I delivered what I knew would be the only cast I would get in. One swoop of line to get some weight for loading the rod, followed by a single false cast, off to the left of the fish, and the final delivery slightly right of that , with a shepherd’s crook to the right. The fly drifted four feet, and she rose and took it, like it was the most natural thing in the world.
(At 21 inches, this hen is the biggest river Brown I have ever caught. More remarkable than that, is that Hamish Gerrard happened to be fishing the same beat the following day, and landed a cock fish of the same size!)