The first decad of April

Exploring the history of flyfishing in KZN over the last 40 years through a flyfishers journal: The first ten days of April in this instalment.

On the 5th of April 1985, I caught what was then my biggest Trout…a 3 ½ pound Rainbow from Glencoe dam in East Griqualand. It was on a #12 Black Woolly Worm.

In 1987, as a young varsity student, the bug had clearly bitten hard, because the log reveals that I fished 12 days of that month. What is remarkable is that I, and as I remember it, those whom I fished with, all did spectacularly badly! In the first 10 days of the month we trolled various NFFC waters recording blanks at many, and single fish on other days. It was an unremarkable period from a results perspective, but I do remember it as a time of trial and learning. My years thereafter included graduation, army service, marriage, young kids, and sheer lack of good judgement in not fishing the magical first week of April! As we all know here in the KZN Midlands, it is a beautiful time of year, with often perfect stable weather and great fishing conditions, but perhaps that wisdom evaded me in those years, for while I have since made up for that, the diary is lean until 1998!

In 1998 the whole NFFC committee, of which I was then a member, spent a weekend at the Inhlozane syndicate. There myself and others had great fun on the dry fly, landing a bunch of fish, even if none were particularly big. The flies included Humpies and DDD’s. The DDD’s were tied of Klipspringer, and it was in that year that I learned an important lesson. All my DDD’s had rusted hooks, and broke off on the take, robbing me of the opportunity to land the many fish that were fooled by them. It seems that something used  in the tanning process was corroding my hooks to the point of complete failure!  I ended up borrowing some DDD’s from Kevin Culverwell, and was able to land some fish! That did however include fish of up to three pounds, taken from the Old Dam.

uMngeni River

The following year, my young son and I spent a day on Chestnuts. I remember that a first trip to the Rhodes area was planned for a week later, and I can remember this day as one in which I sought to get my eye in so to speak, for the Eastern Cape rivers. Chestnuts has always been a difficult stretch, and back then it was made all the more difficult by the significant invasion of alien wattles, which are so evident in the photos I took that day. It was tricky, and we went fishless, as did my friends Chris and “Tula” whom we bumped into that day. Chris managed to take a tumble into the river that day, wetting his electric car keys. I remember him opening the device and retying the circuitry on the bakkie bonnet in the sun before he was able to make the trip back home.

From that year onwards, trips to Rhodes have dominated the first decad of April. I have chosen not to include those in this series, for a number of reasons. For a start they would fill a tome on their own. They would also swell this “chapter” to unbearable lengths, and they would detract from the focus on my KZN home-waters.

In 2000, I left for what was to become our regular Rhodes trip, direct from a fishing trip in the Underberg area. At that time I was on the local committee of FOSAF, and that year we had some international guests out whom we hosted. Among them were Taff Price, Lee & Joan  Wulff  and Darrel Martin, whom we hosted for a night at Glencairn on the Pholela. We fished briefly on the Saturday afternoon on the uMzimkulu. That night we had a sumptuous meal along with members of the Underberg Himeville Trout Fishing club, and I remember fairly rolling to bed. The next morning I was fortunate to take a stroll along the Pholela with Darrel Martin, while chatting about Trout around the world. Darrel and I swapped some fly tying materials: I gave him some Klipspringer, and he gave me a packet of CDC. I confess, I didn’t get what this fluffy feather was all about, and stuffed it into the back of my tying kit. I still have it, along with Darrel’s furled leader recipes, and now several of his books, one of which he kindly posted to me duly autographed after delightful Skype calls in more recent years.

Fly fishing trip

Co-incidentally my next entry for the first decad of April, is also on the uMzimkulu in 2002, this time at Glenhaven. The record is one though of a “family picnic with thousands of kids “, and while others caught the odd small Rainbow, I was not successful. I was however to get in some proper fishing the following weekend. That was a weekend spent at John Armstrong’s cottage on Sourveld farm, which was planned to be a regular event, but sadly,  in the end happened only once. It was labelled (with anticipation o there being repeats) as “the Uncles Weekend”, in which us sons and nephews treated our two flyfishing uncles to a weekend away in thanks for what they had done for us as kids.  My two uncles, Jem Horne and John deWet, were both wonderful to us all as kids, taking us fishing and nurturing our love of the outdoors. John is no longer with us, but my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting Jem this week. On that particular weekend, we fished the top dam for a while, where I got two Rainbows on olive FMD’s in the early morning. Then after a generous brunch we went to the bottom dam. There we found an irrigation pump feeding water from the nearby Little Mooi, up into the dam. The water poured out of a high pipe in a corner near the spillway, and the fish were lined up to receive the cool, oxygenated water coming from the river. It was like clubbing seals!  I went off on my tube across the rest of the dam to make space for the others, and was unsuccessful. The rest took turns at the pipe, and all got to feel the tug that is the drug!  It was great to see our uncles getting stuck into fish, and having the time of their lives. Special times indeed. 

The following morning we were back, and this time I crumbled and partook in the veritable feast, getting a few strong Rainbows myself.  The journal reads “must do this again”, but sadly we never did.

2008 heralded a new chapter in the lives of PD and myself. We got involved in running a small Trout hatchery, and that opened up some water which we knew but could now call home for a while. The first week of April was gloriously autumnal, and the countryside was pretty as a picture. I remember an air of anticipation.  We explored the landscape, travelling between stillwaters and having a try here and there. PD lost a hogg at Cliff dam, and then made a pig of himself taking small Rainbows on dry flies. I got a couple of fish on a midge and on a damsel imitation. In the late afternoon we had a celebratory whisky and then we descended off the plateau using a backroad which was built by my Grandfather, and which I hadn’t traversed in a long, long time.

fishing friends
Private Road

There followed some Rhodes trips , but in 2013 Petro and I overnighted at Crystal Waters and I ventured out in Waelcyrge. Off in the bay opposite the cottages, a really strong fish took my fly, careered towards a sunken fence and then buried itself in the weed where it shook its head until the tippet broke. I think one needs the odd fish like that to keep you on your toes and keep the excitement up!

In 2016 I was similarly skunked at Lower Riverside…a beat of the upper Mooi which was new to our local club (NFFC). We were coming out of a severe drought, and fish numbers were down. We subsequently learned that fish size was up! In a little over two hours I had just one fish take the indicator and another shake free. As I left I saw fish starting to rise. A week later my friend Roger was out on his annual visit from France. I went and fetched him from where he was staying and we headed up to the Dargle where we fished a productive dam. It was a cool blustery day, with the water at 17 degrees C, and at some point I lost my core temperature and had to come in off the tube. But not the old man!  At age 82, he spent five solid hours in his float tube, and he caught fish. One of those was the one that he posed with beside just the butt section of his beautiful bamboo rod, while I held the graphite rod he had caught it with, out of the frame. You can read that story HERE. We had a lot of fun, and I got a couple of fish on a damsel pattern I sometimes fish, which sports a shiny floss body, some gangly legs and a glowing green plastic bead at the head for some bling. I call it the “slinky Damsel”. It still catches fish, especially on grey days.

PD and I resolved that when we turned 50, we would do an international fly fishing trip. I will admit that we had New Zealand in mind, with Patagonia as an alternative, but as it happened we did Lesotho. Well, you need a passport don’t you!

It was the “Trekking for Trout” thing that got our attention. The five days started on April Fool’s day. We  set out for the 11 km hike up the Bokong, in weather that worsened as we went. We arrived close to Willow camp, well ahead of the Donkeys, and resolved to fish until they arrived, whereafter we would set up camp. That was about when the heavens opened. The river came up, and we got cold. Those Donkeys were slow, and that cup of coffee when they arrived was very welcome.  Day 1 : Blank.

Day two was dry and sunny. We spotted lots of zippermouth yellows, with a few Browns in between. Not many…just a few. And the ones we spotted were zippermouth Browns. Day 2 Blank.

Day 3, 4 and 5: Rain, wind, grey skies, no sun, lots of rain. Fish spotted: 2.  Fish caught:  Ja/Nee.

2019: Rhodes

2020: Covid

2021: No excuse….the fishing just all seemed to be either side of the first decad of April

2022: Rhodes

2023:  The rivers are in magnificent form, and I have had a few wonderful days on the uMngeni and the Mooi. The fish have been eager for a dry fly, and have been plentiful. Water temperatures have been around 18 and 19 degrees, and conditions have been perfect, with the usual autumnal weather that one associates with this time of year.  My morning on the uMngeni: I was with a friend, and we both had a lot of fun. Interestingly we encountered fewer bigger fish than I have done in the preceding months, but then again, I had decided to pick the pocket water with a dry/dropper, so maybe it had something to do with where I was fishing.

There was one fish that made the morning. Noel said he had seen it feeding, had tried for it, but couldn’t crack the code. He was walking back down to re-fish a piece back down near where we started. His pause to tell me about the fish seemed like an invitation. Or maybe a challenge.  Either way, I located the fish. It was feeding in skinny flat water, near where a branch hung off a steep bank into the water.  I would not be able to get a cast across the stream without drag, and in any event, I would be too far from the fish. So I needed to wade up the shallow tail of the pool. But it was flat, crystal clear water, and a bow wave would do me no favours.  I doubled back down to the tail-out and stepped into the river. I spent the next 10 minutes doing one slow step at a time. While I did this, the fish continued to rise. When I finally arrived in a good casting position, I threw a hopper at the fish. I did two drifts, both of which passed over it. No response.  I pulled in and tied on a pale shade parachute dry with a pink post and tried that. Three drifts.  No answer.  I paused. The fish rose several times again. I changed fly to a smaller, dark grey parachute fly with a white post. One cast. Fish on! 

Man, I love this sport!

3 Responses

    1. Hi Rod, thanks for dropping your comment…always good to know someone is enjoying the posts. Another book….I guess that’s a possibility, but I think the nature and experience of a typical season on the waters I fish is pretty much covered in “Delicate Presentations”.

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