Back in 1984, I was on a family trip to the Eastern Cape to visit my sister and her husband. “If she goes to Rhodes she will meet an Eastern Cape farmer, marry him, and we won’t see her again”, my Dad had lamented. He was wrong…..we often went down there to see them, and on this occasion, my parents arranged a stay over at Hogsback on the way back. Of course I was quick to point out that there was trout fishing to be had in the area. We were in a severe drought, so the local angling club suggested we leave the river, but give “Chappie Evans’ dam” a try. It was hot, the dam as low, and it didn’t look too promising.
But as it turned out Dad lost a fish, which broke him off at a wind knot in the leader, and I had a really good fish have a go at the DDD I was fishing. My mother was sitting in the car behind me, knitting, but watching the water, and she was my witness. The fish lunged, leaving a big bow wave, and I instinctively pulled the DDD out of its mouth, as one does. It lunged again at the re-positioned fly, and I removed the fly again. Then Mum yelled “Catch it Andy!” from the car window, but it was all over, bar the shaking knees. Funny how you remember stuff like that.
Shortly after our return, we had a trip up to Lake Overbury, and stayed in the cottage there. There was Dave, Guy, PD, Angus and Bruce and myself. It was very windy up there, and we tried the dam, but we struggled a bit. Some of the guys resorted to trolling. I think we all resorted to big flies. There was a joke about a #2 long-shank, which I think I was too young to get, and I mooched off to fish the uMngeni in its very upper reaches there, figuring it would be a bit sheltered. It was, and we caught fish there. They were Rainbows! No doubt escapees from the dam, as they were a similar size to the few that we caught in the dam. The road was very bad back then, and on the way down, we very nearly lost a wheel on the Isuzu we were in. Those who have read my book “Delicate Presentations”….yes…that is where the inspiration came from!
In 1986 my uncle’s dam had just ‘come on line’ so to speak, having recently been stocked with Rainbows. Initially I walked there from the farmhouse…a trek of some two and a half kilometres from the farmhouse, but by 86 I was borrowing Dad’s motorbike , strapping a rod tube to the carrier, and riding up there for a spot of fishing before breakfast, or in the late afternoon. In mid April of that year I landed a few fish of around the one pound mark on Black Woolly Worms, and a large Hamills Killer. The water was still 20 degrees C, but the fish were strong and feisty.
The following year we were in the Kamberg, camping with varsity friends at Glengarry if memory serves me correctly. At Pump and Island (NFFC water) we had dirty water at a temp of 19 degrees, and I was rewarded for my newfound efforts on 5X tippet, by being taken to the cleaners by a strong fish. Thankfully I did land one fish before we were chased off by rain and cold. In the days that followed we fished Granchester, Morrass Vlei (that was before it was inundated by bass) , Aberfoyle, Corrie Lynn, and then my uncles dam again, and I used 3X tippet and caught one fish between them all. I remember being quite rattled. We put in many hours on the water and we really struggled. You start to doubt yourself!
The ’drought’ was broken the following week-end on Glencoe dam in East Griqualand where we all managed a number of fish between two and three pounds. The water was a cooler 16 degrees C, and clean, and the fish were strong.
In 1988, this time of the year saw me at Mavela, my uncles dam (where the fish had grown to about two and a half pounds….I managed to land a few this time) and “Crystal Manor Dam” near Ixopo with varsity friends.
1990 was a wet year. On Friday 13th (yes….) PD and I went up to Avon on the Mooi to give it a try. It was chocolate brown, so we went across to Knowhere on the uMngeni. That was a bit off colour too, but we gave it a brief go before chucking it in. “a wasted day of driving” it says in my journal. But we were back at Avon a week later, and while it was still murky. We both got a few fish, but one of them as remarkable: It was a “one pounder”, but I kept it for the pan, and on gutting it we found an intact shrew, 6cm in length, in its gut.
1991 through 1994 were my “dry years” in terms of how often I got onto the water, but in ’95 I was back at Little Falls with Kevin, to achieve “Blank again!” as I wrote in the journal. But then I see we cooked up both a good breakfast AND a good lunch, which would no doubt have been accompanied by some liquid refreshment. Interestingly that year I recorded that we had had our first snow, but no frost yet.
In ’98 I was at Tierhoek for a family weekend, with very little fishing done, but I helped another guest net a small Rainbow and then witnessed his friend land a whopping 7lb 6 oz fish from the imaginatively named “dam no 4”. A week later Alan Toombs joined me for a few hours on Bracken Waters (this was before it was infested with bass), but we blanked despite great conditions. Midmar was still overflowing at that time, so it must have been coming off a decent summer.
On the 18th April 1999, I was fresh back from one of my earlier trips to Rhodes, when Guy Robertson and I ventured out to Brigadoon on the uMngeni, with the express desire to try the section newly opened up to our club, namely what Tom Sutcliffe had described as “John Black’s water” above the confluence with the Furth Stream. I go three Browns that day, one of which went 17 inches and another 18! Those fish were caught lower down, at King’s pump, but the bit that I remember was exploring “Black’s water”. Derek Fly had run his tractor up there with a mower, to make a path beside the river, largely for the benefit of his father, Vic, who loved to fish the river. That made it easy going, until you had to turn off the path and beak through the undergrowth to get to the river bank. That took some doing, and my journal reflects it as having been difficult. With lots of wattle and bramble. I have some pictures of Picnic Pool, and then of Guy fishing it, amongst khaki weed at shoulder height. I was at the same pool just last week, and I remarked to my fishing buddy that it didn’t always look as good as it does now! I also related how on that 1999 day, Guy and I ventured up above Picnic pool, to where the river runs in divided channels between giant tufts of bankside grass, and how we spooked countless small fish, which scattered into the thin lines of shade either side of us. The spot captivated me then, and it still does, Just above that Guy and I peered into the gloomy tunnel of wattle trees, reckoned we must be near the top boundary anyway, and threw in the towel. It pleases me no end to go and fish there now, as we did last week, and to stalk trout in clear open water, with all the wattles gone. You can now occupy the better part of a day just from the spot where we chucked it in, up to the boundary fence, and the fish are fat and plentiful.
In 2001 I spent the Easter weekend on the Ngwagwane at Fred Williams’ cottage, and took my two young boys fishing. On the Friday the river was a clear and slightly low, but after a front moved in, the water rose a bit, dropped to 15 degrees and was a little coloured. By the Monday it was clear again, but the cool water stayed. I guess that is the nature of autumn. We caught a ton of fish, their size seemingly diminishing until I didn’t think I could catch one smaller. And then I did. The boys Christened him “Fred”, stuck him in a jar, and brought him home, where they put him in a fish bowl and killed him within hours. He was buried in the back garden at home with full honours.
In the same week of the following year, I took the boys out again, this time to Brigadoon. The journal reflects that I fished for the sum total of ten minutes, and my sketch kinda tells the full story:
A week later I went back alone to make good. That is a day I remember well. I had resigned from work, and in the wrap up, I was allowed to plan any leave I wanted, and then the rest would be banked and I would be paid out for it. I needed the cash, but since the need for some flyfishing was great, I lopped a day off for myself. I parked at the quarry on Brigadoon, which is near the confluence with the Furth stream. Then I walked down to the Krantz, and then spent the next 8 hours fishing all the way up, past the car to the top boundary. By 4 pm, I had caught just one 6 inch fish. I remember sitting on the bank in the late afternoon thinking (in my ignorance), that I must chat to Derek Fly about stocking the river. I had walked through runs, kicking my boots in under overhanging grass, trying to scare a fish. Just to see one! And there were none. It was as dead as a doornail. And then as I sat there thinking those thoughts, the fish started to rise. There were so many rises that it was hard to believe there was any space left for water. I caught three little fellows on a dry fly, and left for home shaking my head in disbelief at what had happened.
On Sunday 18th of April 2004, Luke, Jethro and I were dropped off at the museum at Lotheni in the morning. From there we made our way to the river and fished back up to Cool Pools over the next few hours. I fished a “brown nymph” all day on a little ¾ weight which I used to fish back then. It was a cheap rod named “snappy” which I had bought from a bicycle shop for R99, and had managed to break and then repair. It did the job. It was a wonderful sunny day, and the river was clear and cool. The fish weren’t all that co-operative , so the boys took to swimming after a while, but I managed to coach them into swimming below where I was fishing. Where the river runs really close to the road, I took a lovely 14 inch Brown….my second fish of the day. I remember Jethro commenting “Wow….I wish I could catch a fish like that”.
We had lunch from the backpack beside the river, while watching some eland on the hill and a bird of prey overhead.
In 2005 I had a day on the Mooi at Reekie Lynn alone. It was a bit slow, but the river was full, clean and beautiful. I took small fish from Magic Pool, Island Pool and Krantz Pool, where I also had two 12 inch fish follow the fly in full view on two consecutive casts. I was fishing a Zak, but did see a few rises to hoppers and some caddis which hatched for a short while during the day.
“Snappy” was on duty again on the Easter week-end in 2009, this time at Silver Streams on the upper Ngwagwane. I was giving fly fishing lessons to James. We fished for half and hour and caught a bunch of little Rainbows on a parachute dry, most of which James landed. It was fun.
In mid April of 2010, PD and I were up at the hatchery getting things ready for the breeding season, and we threw a fly for less than an hour, but it produced a cock and a hen, which were duly transferred inti the brood stock pens for the upcoming Trout breeding endeavour, before I had to leave to catch a flight.
In 2014 I was similarly on pre-season hatchery duty, and got in a few hours on the dams. That day was filled with small and willing fish, which took anything I threw at them. I did however get a beaut of six pounds 10 ounces on the FMD. It measured 23 inches, and had a girth of 14”.
Two days later, PD, Roy and I went on an epic exploratory hike up the Ncibidwane valley. I claim full responsibility. I had seen this water from the cliffs up at Highmoor, and had a bee in my bonnet about it. It was tough going, and we didn’t fish for more than an hour, having hiked up some 7kms from where we left the bakkie. We caught nothing and retreated back to the car, as PD had to get back for something. Back near the car, PD waded in to cool down and have a few casts. A Brown which he reckons went 20 inches came cruising right past him, and he then wanted to know what we had hiked all that way for. Ja/Nee.
In the years between 2015 and 2022, some of our Rhodes trips encroached into this decad. So it was by no means devoid of fishing, but the KZN escapades show up again only last year, where, fresh back from a Rhodes trip, I was up at Kumalungana with a few friends. It was cool and blustery, and the water temps were down to 14 degrees. This was no doubt helped by all the rain: remember we had April and May floods in KZN last year! On that day there was still hail on the ground from a storm 3 days prior and I used the word “over-full” in my notes on dam level.
This year, I had two fantastic river days in this ten day period. Somehow I think those stories need to mellow a little. Simmer, you could perhaps call it. I wouldn’t want to blow current fishing spots. Suffice it to say they were both days from heaven.