“Sunday 19th February 1984: Game Pass. Beautiful crystal clear water….more fast water than down on Kamberg. Golden streambed…… Fewer nchishi bushes……. . Tried everything from nymphs to polywing spinners to #18McMurray ant…… A very enjoyable day. Nothing landed.“
Funny….Just a few weeks ago I was commenting on the yellow rocks so prevalent on this stretch of river, and how they make it quite unique in the KZN context, then I go looking in my notes and see the comment above from 1984! Depicted here, my friend Neil doing battle with some high water on the upper Mooi not very long ago.
In 1985, I was on the dams at Hastings with a bunch of school mates on the 17th , and we caught stockies on nymphs and dries…one of mine on a DDD. I remember that trip for one thing…school boys were rigging rods in the back of the school minibus on the way to the dam, and on arrival, they exited the bus via the windows so that they could start fishing more quickly than if they had to wait and exit via the van door. No mention of conditions, but we must have stayed late: I have a grainy photo of PD fishing in the lengthening shadows of afternoon.
In the following year, we did a grand trip to Highmoor at this time of year, which as you know is always cooler than just about anywhere else. We camped in a grove of wattle trees, which is no longer there. That spot was one hill further east than the current camp site, and it comprised of a few flat spots near the trees, and a water tank on the hill with a single tap. I think there was a long drop.
The water temperature was a respectable 18 degrees C, and we all caught fish off float tubes. I think I must have been in a home made float tube at the time. My friend Kevin was in a flyfisherman mark 2 float tube…the blue one with a yellow back panel. My records don’t reflect who else beside Kevin was there, or what they caught, but I have a picture of Kevin netting what looks like a solid Rainbow. I recorded a bunch of stockies and one fish of “3 lbs 2 oz” . I got them on things as varied as a yellow Muddler Minnow, Black Woolly worms, and a stick caddis imitation which I have not forgotten. I do remember that we kept one fish, and laid it in wet newspaper under the bakkie back at the campsite, and in the morning it was gone without a trace of what beast might have dragged it away!
In 1987 I was at my uncle’s dam on Petrusstroom and reporting water temperatures of 23 degrees, in which I unwisely returned Rainbows which weighed around 2 lbs. They were taken on dragonfly nymph imitations. On the following day I accompanied Des Smith, who used to run the Kamberg store. To Prairie where the water temperature was the same. WE caught no fish, but witnessed a curious event. On two separate occasions I spotted small Trout swimming fearlessly around near the surface with their mouths open. I tried to put flies in front of them, but they each cruised around the fly, treating it as an irritation. My journal records that I chased them around for 10 to 15 minutes each, trying to get them to take, without success. Before you attribute this peculiar behaviour to warm water: I have seen this one other time, and it was at Forest Lodge in the middle of winter.
Skip forward to 1991: I was a very young agricultural advisor, working for a bank. One of the tasks I performed was farm valuations, and on the 15th of February in that year I arranged to go and value the farm at Eland Park, along with the owner, Kate. At that stage the old Henderson’s cottage was still standing. This is the cottage where Bevan , the remittance man, famously stayed and fished back in the 1920’2 and shot his two pet baboons for breaking into his larder. It is also the cottage where my friend Ilan Lax mistakenly spent some of his honeymoon. Wrong cottage Ilan! After a tour of the farm, a picnic lunch which Kate provided, and running my hands over the 2 foot wide stone walls of the quaint cottage, it was suggested that instead of rushing back to work, I have a go in the Bushmans River. I have no recollection why, but I fished for only 45 minutes, during which I caught a lovely Brown approaching a pound in weight, on a Walker’s Red Nymph. My notes indicate, and my memory confers, that the river was full and flowing fast, but “99% clean”.
In 1994, I was in Underberg on the week-end that “The Duck Pond” burst. I remember it well. We only had a bit of drizzle…there was no deluge to bring the dam down…it just went mysteriously. It was only years later that I was to read Tod Collins account of that fateful day on the 19th February when the otter’s tunnels caused the dam to go, while Hans Klingenberg and Pieter Schmelling were fishing it! On that almost fatal day, I was at another water, called “Forest dam” with someone called Doug, and another called Tim. . My journal is brief, and strangely, I have no recollection of the place, the day, the two Trout I caught or the five that the others caught! The journal does record that I was man-down with the flu…. Perhaps that is the reason.
In the year 2000, I was on Reekie Lyn alone for the morning, fishing from Picnic Rock, up to the falls. The water temperature was 19 degrees C and the river was full and clean…..quite magnificent in fact. Strangely I didn’t catch a thing! Not in the morning, and not later when my friend Guy Robertson came and joined me. I met Guy around midday, as a rumbling storm was developing off to the South West in the direction of White Rocks. We proceeded to spend a few hours trying for some very picky fish that were rising in the short stretch between the falls and the confluence of the Reekie Lyn stream. The journal reflects that Guy and I between us struck and missed the same fish three times. As the weather worsened, we decided to leave.
Imagine our surprise, when a few hundred yards up the track, on our way out, we encountered a wall of muddy water that took the stream right over the bridge there! At that stage we had only had a few drops of rain.
In 2012, PD and I had one of those rare February days when it all comes together. We fished Reekie Lyn together, and despite it being a day “stinking hot and clear”, we were in the 18 degree water for most of the time. Clean water it was too! We started right at the bottom, where PD picked up a 17 inch Brown in the first pool he fished. This fish was immortalised by my late Dad in a lovely painting which he did from the photo I took. The fish was also the inspiration for the story in chapter 18, page 213 of “Delicate Presentations”. PD got another 2 fish, and I got a few in the 11 to 14 inch range, before rain saw us sheltering under the wattle trees at Magic Pool (They are gone now…I had them cut down!). After a lunch there we got some sun, but it was mixed with equal measure of lightning and thunder, whereafter a cold mist rolled in, and we called it quits. It was a special day that….my journal is filled with pretty pictures of the valley, the water, the wildflowers.
In 2016 I was invited for a day at “The Old Dam”. That is a very special invitation, and one doesn’t turn those down, even if it is the 13th February.
“Go softly by that river side
Or when you would depart,
You’ll find its every winding tied
And knotted round your heart.”
We started early in view of the warm water, but the record shows it was 23 degrees anyway, and we finished off at midday when the air temperature was at 30 degrees. When we arrived, the fish were rising everywhere, but we couldn’t crack the code, according to my journal, and four of us were still without a fish when the rising ended after two hours or so, and it stayed that way. My mate Anton, on the other hand, had landed 5 fish, when he handed me his rod just before midday (I had packed away already), and got me into a four pound fish that saved the day.
In 2019 we had a club river clean-up day on the Bushmans. After the activities, we made our way up to look at the Ncibidwana, and then back down to the main river where I met up with Shaun Futter. I had undertaken, some years earlier, to give his boys some tutelage on the river, because, as you well know, Dads make bad coaches! This was my chance. His boys did well, catching and missing a few fish, and generally getting the feel of things. After a bit of social time I moved up to the sandmine pools on Ezibukweni Kwaundaba, where I had a go at a rising fish. I tried a number of dry flies on it, but got it on an unweighted nymph in the end. The fish were strangely off-the bite that afternoon, and I did notice that the banks had beaten paths. I later heard the claim that some of the volunteers had fished that piece with their Euro nymphing rigs and landed “80 fish” in the hours before I got there.
The year before last The Viking and I headed up to Game Pass on the 20th of February. We were lucky to come off a cool day the day before, and the water was a surprising 15 degrees when we got to the water at 8 am after the considerable hike in. From the get go, the two of us caught small fish, both on dries, and in my case on a #20 PTN. It was fun, and it was pretty, but by 11 am the mist had all burned off and it quickly went from 20 degrees C to 30 Degrees! The fact that there was no wind at all, didn’t help matters.
Late on in the morning, we encountered some picnickers at one of the pools. The Viking was on the other side of the river, but was closer to them than I was. I signaled to ask if they were fishing. His reply came by signal, the details of which I will leave to your imagination, that they were not fishers, but lovers. Later, as we joined up to make the hot hike back, under a baking sun, he reported that they were the fattest people he had ever encountered in the mountains. We were puzzled, and postulated where the helicopter might have dropped them off. Our questions were answered when we popped over the rise and found several vehicles parked on the jeep track (strictly no entry to anyone other than park rangers). As we walked down that track we encountered litter, and later the chain removed from the gate with the no entry sign. We felt as though our spot had been violated.
Last year I had a day alone on Stoneycroft on the uMngeni. “Bright, and Hot as hell”, it says in the journal. For the rest of it, take a look at the video I put together about my experience:
And this year we have a deluge: the rivers have been knocked out for around a week. Added to that we have greater sensitivities to heat than we did back ion the 1980’s and 1990’s, so we have closed stillwaters due to water temperatures (I do agree with that!).
So it occurs to me that mid February is an opportunistic time, in which we take what we can get. Occasionally it will all come together, but don’t bank on it.