As we steered across the vlei and ascended the slight rise on the Western side of the valley floor, the strong yellow rays of the sun lit the hill, and at its base the coruscating blue water came into view in a narrow strip.
The light was brilliant in its clarity, but gentle in its insidious arrival, and soft in hue. The cold, on the other hand, was brutal and harsh. The puddles were iced on the way in and, but for the fact that there was no moisture in the air, there would have been a frost as severe as winter. It was neither winter nor spring. It was August: that in-between month of either hot or cold, but definitely dry.
Today was cold. The waders were icy, and I felt the need to pull on a beanie to cover my ears.
There was a chop on the water from the fresh Westerly breeze, and the float tube rocked ever so slightly atop the crystal bowl of water that we were fishing. I had on an FMD. PD started with one too, but switched to a woolly bugger. He landed two Rainbows.
They were strong fish, probably year-old’s from last years fry. I landed only one, which meant he was on tea duty.
Mind you, he is always on tea duty.
It was March. The grass seeds were suspended high on tall bent stems, their weight barely sustainable in the heavy morning dew. Their greenness was still in them, but not for much longer. A pale duskiness was creeping into the veld from the base of each plant, and replacing the verdancy of mid summer. Heavy rain had swept across the upper reaches of the Ndawana that week, but it was not a summer rain. The weighty black clouds hung low over the quiet veld, and cast shadows that were cool. Brief spells of bright sun were warm, but failed to make us sweat, as we moved up the valley.
The stream showed signs of milkiness in the deepest pools, but as the morning wore on, and we got further up, I was certain that any colour in the water had disappeared. The small rushing stream cut deep and clear through dark soils and rocky ground. It’s slender threaded path down the valley ran black in the shade of high banks, and sparkled in flurries of white water, lit and highlighted by passing sunlight patches.
I was fishing a Zak under an indicator. A small tussled fly, that looked sufficiently beaten-up to be appetising. The yarn indicator was greased and floating high. Conditions were good and I should have been hooking fish at will. I was hooking fish at will in fact. I just wasn’t holding onto them. My rig was wrong. My diary suggests that the indicator was too far from the fly. That may have been it. Whatever the problem was, I was out of sorts. I vaguely remember that the tippet was too long and hinging under the weight of the heavy fly. I was fishing 4X in an attempt to match the subtleties of the small stream, but it was too limp for the weight I was attempting to throw.
PD on the other hand was not only hooking fish at will: he was landing them too. He was on form. The journal records that he landed “about twenty Rainbows”. He was flicking his fly sharply ahead into the quick runs and riffles and staying in touch with the fly without pulling it too straight and inviting drag.
I stood behind him at a pretty run and watched him pull several fish from the same spot. I took a picture. He fished.
Later I went higher up on my own and found fish rising to a very small mayfly. I don’t remember what pattern I tried, but it was just one pattern. I didn’t change the fly. I cast it repeatedly with limited result.
I ended the day on three fish. My diary entry is brief to the point that it is not descriptive. I was off form, and when my tackle wasn’t right, I didn’t sit on a rock and correct it. When I didn’t have the right mayfly pattern, I didn’t try others. When I filled in my log, I scrawled briefly, and put it away.
Art and poetry don’t get produced on demand. Neither does text book fly-fishing. You have to be in the groove.
I often find that a thermometer is a poor measure of temperature, in terms of our experience of the fishing day.
Leaving aside the wind chill factor, which we all know well, a thermometer reading tells very little about what it feels like to be out.
Just the other morning, it was 13 degrees when I got up. On a winter’s morning, that is a very high overnight temperature, and one that on the face of it, should have the global warming guys saying “You see!”.
But strangely it didn’t feel that warm at all. The thing is, that as the day developed, the light remained dull from some high cloud, and although we had no wind to speak of, a southerly front oozed over, and the daytime temperature never went over 16 degrees. It was a cool day.
Likewise a 29 degree day in May and one of 29 degrees in January are two entirely different things. I suppose in that example you could put it down to a difference in humidity and you would be right.
The guys at Accuweather have this “reelfeel” thing, which is quite useful. It’s accuracy is, and always will be, debatable, but the fact that they felt a need to come up with such a concept, means that I am not the only one who sees the limitation of the mercury. But I don’t believe that the guys have it waxed yet. For example, I have a thermometer out front of my house and one out back, that give different readings. The difference between the two will vary considerably on two consecutive days when the reelfeel temperature is the same. I can’t get my head around such an abstruse outcome, except to say that our experience of the weather is complex.
Us fishermen are quite obsessive about our weather readings, and we add to that the water temperature, clarity, flow, and other factors, in an attempt to solve our Trout riddles. However, as I look through my fishing log, the temperatures, cloud cover, wind details and the like are never enough, and there is always a sentence in my notes that adds a descriptor. That sentence often deals with the degree to which it was miserable , or dull, or bright. One of the key things in there is a description about the light.
If one thinks about it, a day varies from those clear crisp type of days after rain, to the hazy ones. And the clear bright days after snow in winter, seem that much more pellucid and bright than the ones in summer when we have had rain.
And if I had to make a great big generalisation, I would have to say that a cool bright day is one that gets the fish going. Remember that this might be a sunny or an overcast day, but there will be a clarity to the light. The opposite of that would have to be a brassy day.
I often survey a landscape and declare it brassy with an air of disgust, since I believe it doesn’t auger well for the fishing. PD and I have a common understanding of what constitutes a brassy day, and we label them as such with an irritated clucking. Its somewhat of a code that we have, and the others don’t get it. You could probably measure all this scientifically, but to do so would cut into time fishing or in the pub.
My wife asked me to define this brassy classification the other day. There was a veld fire nearby, and the sunlight had turned yellow. She asked if this qualified as a brassy day, and without hesitation I said no. The coppery light was localised because the fire was nearby. Then she started to ask about days when there are fires everywhere and it is coppery all over. That would just be a collection of localised fires. Would that make it a brassy day? I don’t remember what my answer was. I do know that within 15 minutes I had contradicted myself, and she had caught me out! But PD and I still know if it’s a brassy day, without really being able to define why. We continue to use it consistently as an excuse as to why we didn’t catch any fish. It’s particularly handy since no one can dispute it.
Other anglers have similar things going. I remember my friend Kevin, who despite owning a thermometer would dip his finger into the water with an air of unassailable authority, and declare it cold enough to fish a Mickey Finn. I will often pack up when a still evening is ruined by a cold Easterly wind, but apparently that should not put me off if the clouds are hanging on the hilltops.Guy used to stay out in the most miserable of weather blown in by a cold front from the South, provided there was a nasty drizzle , and return with an enormous thirst and tales of big fish allegedly landed. Sometimes these syllogisms are obscure and relate to things like a favourite hat left at home on a cloudy day.
The best one that comes to mind is the one relayed by Jim Read: Eddie Combes use to ask the late Hugh Huntley if he had shaved that morning , and if indeed he had, Eddie reckoned you had no chance at all of catching a Trout!