Looking back: the 3rd decad of February

Trolling my flyfishers journal for this time of year over the last 40 years.

Back in 1985, on the last week-end in February, we did one of those epic trips that are just a haze of memories. I know we spent a night or two camping  at the Himeville Nature Reserve, and because we were running out of money, we then asked Len Thurston if we could stay in his pumphouse, which we duly did. The photographic evidence suggests we still had money for beer. The journal  was in two parts back the, stories in an old school exercise book, and fish recorded in a table. Neither one has any entries for that week-end, but I have photos and fuzzy memories. At Isabella we were warmly dressed. That tells you something, not unlike the fact that the Natal Fly Fishers Club re-opened its stillwaters this week. But if the absence of an entry in my table is anything to go by, I certainly did badly from a catching perspective. I do recall that we came back from Underberg on our last day and fished Maritzdaal until late in the afternoon, and I have a photo of the others gutting fish beside the dam.

In 1987, on the 22nd February I was on the home dam at Corrie Lynn for a few hours, but the water temperature there was 25 degrees at the surface and 24 a few feet down, and I came away empty handed. Surprisingly though, there were fish rising everywhere, so rather than the temperature being the problem, it was me not cracking the code! A year later, on the last day of the month, we were on Granchester, and there my mate Kev did crack the code, landing several fish on Barry Kent’s MF. They were stuffed full of gillimienkies , and Brett and I did not crack the code there either. The water was 23.5 degrees C!

On the last weekend of February 1993, the FFA (Fly Fishers Association…the Durban club) had a clinic at Coleford. I remember sharing a room with the clinic’s worst snorer ; one guest arriving by helicopter; one of the guides not coming back to the cottage one night and being seen emerging from a lady’s bungalow the next morning; and the fishing being appallingly bad. I was on stillwater bug duty, and I remember hauling weed and insects out of one of the dams at Coleford to show the participants. The day after the clinic a big cold front came in, which would have been a relief, because my journal mentions that we had not recovered from a drought, and that the rocks of the Ngwagwana were covered in slimy algae.

In 1996 I was on Boomy dam with PD and his Dad on the last week-end of February. The water was 22 degrees C despite exceptionally heavy rain which left the dam full and slightly off colour.

2002 saw PD and I beside the road at Reekie Lynn desperately trying to start a bakkie with a flat battery. PD was stressed. He had promised to be back for something or other, and we were already hours over the appointed departure time. We had run the bakkie down the last piece of hill, and failed to get it going, and now we were without options. I suggested we rig up our rods and return to the river, and be done with it. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but PD wasn’t biting like the fish had been that morning.

We had arrived in thick mist, and hence I had the headlights on. In those days there was no beeper to warn you that you had left the lights on. So when we returned in the heat of the day around 2pm, we were done for.

But I remember the mixed emotions because we had both had another superb day on the river. We got 9 or 10 fish each; the rivers was full and clean; the weather was pretty and not too hot, and we were seeing fish everywhere. Most of the fish were quite small, but one of PD’s stood out. He was waded into heavy water at Moser’s, and I was standing close by. He was high sticking into the strong flow just above him, repeatedly flicking the fly up and drifting it back as he lifted the rod tip. I thought he had overdone it already, having put dozens of drifts through there, but he kept on going. Afterwards, he said that he didn’t feel he had achieved the perfect drift yet….got the fly into the particular lane that he had in mind. As soon as he did get that right, his hunch paid off and he landed a fat brown…the heaviest fish of the day. Funny how you remember things:  PD was wearing white takkies and blue jeans, and wading wet. The shoes were an eyesore and the wet jeans were a discomfort, and he said something about not having thought his choice of clothes through.

The other memorable fish was a small one, from Krantz pool. It was a rainbow. If I am not mistaken, it is the only Rainbow I have ever caught in the Mooi.

Back at the bakkie, we were rescued by an old rattling bakkie that came past, offered to tow us and got us started and on our way, hopelessly late and in deep trouble!

Flyfishing the Mooi River
Andrew Fowler flyfishing

In 2005 I was on a small dam at the top of the Dargle, where my son James and I drew a blank, despite our early start to avoid the season’s heat. My notes do however say “starting to cool off in the evenings at last”, which, con-incidentally is what I said to a friend of mine on the phone just yesterday!

You will notice that these entries for this last third of the month are sparse. In fact the next entry in my journals for this time of year skips all the way forward to 2014!  I think that is indicative of how I tend to feel, come late February. There is a coolness in the air that lingers all the way from September to as late as Christmas time, but January and February are pretty consistent in their heat, and I think by the last weeks of Feb, an exhaustion sets in, and efforts to fish are feeble at best. My Feb 22nd trip to the Happy Valley Stream is just such a feeble attempt. There are notes on dog walking, and no record of any fish.

Skip forward again to 2017, when we went out early to do a photo shoot for the fishing club. I remember arriving well before dawn on a Saturday morning to wait in the car park of a local pub. I thought it was strange that so many energetic people were up that early, given how full the car ark was. Then we saw drunkards stumbling out of the pub, and weaving to their cars,red-eyed and dangerous. Some didn’t make it out of the parking lot. Thankfully some taxis arrived, and we left for the hills , grateful for the purity of our pursuit. My journal reflects a fish caught, and the comment that it wasn’t really a fishing trip at all, but that I had to complete a page, because I did actually catch a fish.

The following day, perhaps inspired by the prospect of starting up fishing again, I was off to West Hastings, where I landed two strong fish on minnow imitations, and remarked ”Cold!  Heavy rains over the last 10 days…water everywhere…wonderful”   You might remember that 2015/6 were drought years.  Say no more!

In 2019 I had an hour and a half on Stoneycroft, with the water up and dirty, and storms clouds brewing.  “barely fishable” was my comment, but I got  1 14 inch Brown on a GRHE, and as importantly spotted a pair of bushbuck, a duiker and a serval.  Two other guys were on the beat below me, and for a few more hours. They got 8 fish between them, all 11 to 13 inches. I remember being surprised that they stuck it out with the water that dirty.

Last year, my friend Neil and I ventured up the upper Mooi. It was an eventful day. When we arrived at the point where we were ready to cut down to the stream, I thought I saw a red jacket or top moving up the river just ahead of us. Neil thought he saw an orange one. They were a long way off, but we were convinced they were inching up the stream, right where we had planned to fish. We both swore. We had hiked all that way to find someone on OUR water!  Then our bad side came out. We snuck back behind the hill, and hightailed it behind the ridge, cutting in just around the corner from the imposters, and getting our flies in there with a vengeance! The day was strangely unproductive. W saw one or two small fish and had some takes, but there just weren’t many fish around. Within an hour of us starting to fish, the thunder started. The storm was menacing and having been caught in a hum-dinger of a storm there a week earlier, I was anxious. Neil was in his element: he built us a bivvy, ‘survivor style’, and then invited me in there with much ceremony. After the first storm had passed, I lost a good fish at the net just above a spit we call Hard Left. The second storm seemed imminent, so I persuaded Neil that it was time to go. We strode out of there and soon the sun was shining and we were sweating again. We stopped to gasp and looked back up the valley from whence we had come, and blow me down: there was a red jacket and an orange jacket. It turns out they were bushes, and our morning race had been both unnecessary and a display of our overzealousness and greed!

Back at the car we had a cup of coffee, and then we strapped on some dry flies and went and caught a couple of fish below the weir. My five fish were all small, but amongst Neil’s was a 13 inch fish, expertly fooled on a dry, much to his smug satisfaction.

Mooi River flyfishing

This year I simply didn’t venture out in the last 10 days of February. It was steamy hot, and rivers were blown out by yet more heavy rain.

So there you have it….late February:  probably the most sparse trout time of the year, but over the decades a couple of fond memories from the odd time we did get out.


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