Heat, gratitude and Trout
As the three of us sat with our backs to an earth bank, the gum trees bent double, dust from the township roads swept across the valley in front of us. We got wet too, but after the heat of the day, it was such a relief that we enjoyed the cool drops. I sat there watching the large droplets fall on the sleeve of my shirt and dissipate in the wicking fabric in mild and unperturbed fascination. You can relax and do that when a storm is not accompanied by vicious lightning, and this was one of those storms.
A storm was inevitable after the heat of the day. It had been severe. Graeme sent me a screen shot of his vehicle thermometer earlier in the day before leaving Maritzburg: 41 degrees. I had been borrowing a vehicle which, unlike my old one, has one of these thermometers too. I dropped in to see some farmers on the Lions River late morning, and only the strong wind there rescued them from 36 degree temperatures. At Jan’s shop in Notties it was as close as you get to thirty. By the time we arrived at Tendela it was 26 degrees and falling, but a lot of that may have been due to the lateness of the day rather than altitude alone: It just didn’t make sense to rush in the heat of the day, and we couldn’t have cast a fly much before 4:30 pm.
While tackling up, we were observed by three small boys who crept up and sat unobtrusively on the grass behind us, observing our every move. I greeted them and tried to engage them in conversation, but they were shy. Graeme handed them a carton of fruit juice that he had in his vehicle. In re-telling of their reaction later that night, my description of their sheer unadulterated joy and delight brought tears to my wife’s eyes. One of them hugged the carton to his chest and danced as he uttered his heartfelt thanks.
On the walk down to the river from Mr Ntuli’s house, I was immediately aware of the easy banks that Graeme had described to me. He was quite right. The goats and cattle had grazed the veld like a lawn, and as I stepped into the river it felt like I was on a fairway of a golf course.
As I drifted a hopper and small weighted ant through a succession of pretty runs, I took in the scenery. It was different to what we are used to. There were houses scattered about the hillsides. The river bed was punctuated here and there with bottles and cans and scrap metal. The odd packet hung from a pile of sticks and swayed in the current. At one point I remarked to Jac about the polystyrene hatch, as a hamburger box floated down the stream past us.
But there was no putrid effluent in the stream. The water ran clean , and refreshing against my legs, despite its temperature of 22 degrees. The land beside the river was covered with grass, and although there were road ditches and gulches that were bare and no doubt dirty the river in a storm, no one had ploughed close to the river, and there were no fences to cross. Communal land does not get carved up and fenced and possessed by anyone. While that means that the veld has been mis-managed and consists of more mshiki [eragrostis plana] than anything else, at least the altitude here precludes ngongoni [aristida junciformis] and the absence of fences makes the riverside progression a pleasure. And the community members who strolled by did not arrive to greet you with the simmering aggression that a poacher might expect from an approaching farmer. This land belonged to no one, or more accurately a welcoming community, and passing individuals either ignored us completely, or raised their hands in a friendly wave.
After the storm we were back on the river, and I had the good sense to give up on the hopper, and switch to a para RAB so that I too could catch some fish. And I did, but not as many as Jac and Graeme, who were polite enough not to mention their tally! As darkness fell, we changed flies with hands held high to grab at the last silhouette of the nylon against the pale evening sky. We crouched beside the river, not for concealment, but to achieve an angled view that put our flies in those patches of silver against the far bank where the small browns were rising. As we crouched, and cast by feel alone, there were jovial shouts across the valley, the barking of a dog, the squealing of a delighted child, and the rattling of an old pickup, whose yellow lights descended the hill before igniting the steel bridge just upstream.
Later we would find Jac only by following the sound of his fly-reel as he wound in for the day…a reel we had earlier nicknamed “The Isuzu” after its “280 D” sounding click and pawl mechanism. As he approached we were only able to distinguish him from the lumbering forms of the shadowy sheep when he got really close. We crossed the bridge together, the three of us walking abreast in the inky blackness, and followed our noses along the rough gravel road back to Mr Ntuli’s house.
Perceptions, deceptions, and decisions.
Many years ago, PD, Luke and I were returning from fishing this lovely piece of water. We were in high spirits as I remember it. We had caught plenty of small, athletic rainbows on dry flies during the day. As I remember it, it had been sunny and windy, as it often is up there, and if my checkered history in these matters is anything to go by, we probably didn’t allow for the effects of high altitude, and got roasted in the sun. That would have added to the end of day “glow”. And in that glow, it seemed wise to put Luke at the wheel. Hell, I know he was only 12, but he needed driving practice.
After Luke’s 180 degree spin, those eligible took a swig from the hip flask, and we proceeded, in an ever so slightly subdued state of mind.
Marks dam: October 2002
That was by no means my first visit. My fist visit was as a high school boy. The details are very hazy in my memory, but I remember setting out from the very rustic cottage that nestled in the forest on the northern shore. I remember not having waders, and I remember a lot of time spent in a bog, with the smell of mud and methane. I remember thinking that this was very difficult, and I remember other people catching fish from somewhere off in the mist, where there was allegedly a dam.
When I returned there the other day to poach with Anton, him and I spent a lot of time in the bog again, and some memories came flooding back. The poaching thing was a very well informed decision. Research. Sampling. Just checking the fish growth rates. Important stuff. At some point I lost Anton, and many hours later when he loomed down the road, dripping in the mist, he made some remark about losing the dam. It was my fault. It happens!
We caught fish that day. Just a few, and they were not as fat as we had hoped. They did however take dry flies. Some things don’t change.
Petro and I were back there recently. Funny thing: all the signs on the way in were gone. I don’t suppose it matters…we know what its called. I pointed out the spot where Mike had proposed to Tessa just days earlier. Later she pointed out the large Rinkhals, that was between the dog and ourselves. The dog had walked over it, and was now on the other side, intent on coming back, and struggling to understand why the “stay” command was being delivered when he was not at Petro’s side. He cocked his head on one side and looked quizzically at us, while we shouted and threw stones into the veld in front of him. The snake reared and opened its hood, but didn’t move. In desperation I suggested that Petro throw stones at the dog, who was advancing one step at a time, while I threw them at the snake. I don’t know if that was a good decision.
The dog got within striking distance of the snake before he saw it but somehow it ended OK. And Tessa and Mike are happily engaged.
Now there’s a good decision!
I was tidying up my fishing logs the other day, and restacking my bookshelf, and I started reading some old entries as one invariably does. It was late and outside I could hear the heartwarming pitter patter of rain. I was scanning the logbooks for hot summer days that were recorded along with storms and good trout. I suppose I was looking for encouragement for upcoming ventures in high summer.
As I looked down I saw the cat was lying close by. He was seemingly absorbing , enhancing, and retransmitting the nostalgia of it all, as only an old faithful cat can do on a rainy night.
Damn-it ginger. You weren’t even there!
The happy season that was, the one between the arrival of the cuckoos and the arrival of the mosquitoes, is now behind us.
Now we have fierce heat, fierce storms, and humidity in between. We have mosquitoes too. I live in fear. The big ones must be on their way. They bite your head off and drink you like a coke.
It has been a great spring, I think. By my reckoning, it has been a cool one, (Hell, we had snow in October!) , and it has been a relatively wet one too. Having said that, I got a message from my friend Tim the other day to say “Water 21 degrees. Returned some fish carefully, but don’t rate their chances. Stopping fishing now”, or words to that effect. Also, Midmar and Spring Grove dams have little more than stabilised in water level at around 40%. Many Trout dams are also not yet full.
But we are in big storm season now. Just yesterday we sat on the porch with a cold beer and watched a fierce storm build to the north. “Do you think it looks green?” I asked my daughter rhetorically before adding “I think it looks green” . Green storms signal hail. I parked under the tree in case.
This morning friends reported that it had missed Notties, but a video emerged of carnage to the north of that. Carnage would be good I think. A slow spring has allowed river banks to cover in grass, holding them firm, and Midmar needs the water. I would also like a hundred trillion wattle sticks to wash themselves from the upper Umgeni, and save us the man-hours, and the trouble. Midmar normally only overflows around the first week of February, but as soon as you have a few days dry patch, pundits begin citing that the dam isn’t even overflowing. PD confirmed that it doesn’t overflow before his birthday. I am happy to wait and watch. Hopefully “watch” will mean watching some carnage by way of those fierce storms. But since we are playing catch-up, we can give it until the first of March before we expect the dam to overflow.
Wild storms mean dirty streams, and I was reminded the other day that silt particles in the water absorb more heat and cause warmer water. Warmer water holds less oxygen. So we can’t have it all. Rank grass and healthy forest trees on those steep south banks mean more shade though, and rain water, besides having a slightly acid pH, can be cool, so I will take my chances with wild storms over drought any day.
We will just have to pick our fishing days between hot days and dirty rivers. We must also remind ourselves that many a superb day on the stream has been had while sweat trickled down our necks.
I can always go sit out on a big stillwater in a tube and roast while I wait for a storm to roll in.
Or I can go fish in the rain.
As my friend Rhett says ”Just harden the @#$?& up Bevan!”