On Easter Sunday of 1984, my uncle Jem took me to the dam of some farming friends high on a plateau above the Dargle forests. We had one of those exciting but maddening evening rises to a buzzer hatch of epic proportions. You know the ones….the fish are going nuts and so are you. I managed two small fish, but we left feeling beaten, as one normally does. Those things do keep us coming back though. Back for 40 years in my case!
In 1985 John Barry and I had a good long day exploring the uMngeni on Manor Farm (opposite “Knowhere”) and up onto Brigadoon. I don’t remember how we got to fish across two different farms. Perhaps we poached. Either way, looking at where I caught the two Browns I got that day, they were nearly 3 kms apart, so we certainly covered some water. Looking back at this photo, I see that what is now a forest on Rathmines Farm opposite Big Rock, was once a ryegrass pasture! These snap-shots are so valuable in revealing the history of the landscape.
In 1988, Kevin Cole, Jack Blackman and I headed up to Little Falls dam. This was one of only two times that I fished with Jack. I seem to remember he fished from the edge, while Kevin and I tubed. The water was around 17 degrees C and crystal clear. The weather was perfect, and we put in a solid 5 hours, and between the three of us we saw and caught nothing.
If I track just this decad (20th to 30th April), I have no further entries until 1997!
That entry was for Airstrip dam in the Kamberg, where I took my son Luke for a day that started out sunny, bit ended up in two storms, the latter of which sent us packing. That was not before connecting with three fish. A week later I did duty with a bunch of local school boys, on account of the schoolmaster being away at the time. Once my chaperoning was duly done, I got to throw a line too. It was at Rainbow Lakes, which was a treat, and the water was a cool 15 degrees, and clear. A heap of little stockies were caught, bit only a handful over the two pound mark, several of which fell to my olive FMD, fished slow from my float tube
In 1998 my late friend Guy Robertson blanked at both Stagstones (Little Mooi) and at Brigadoon on the uMngeni, and I followed suit at Chestnuts on an afternoon which saw me sneak off work, fishing on return from seeing a customer at Boston. The river was clean, 17 degrees, and looking great, but it was not to be. What I did see was a baby bushbuck across the river in a spot that is now sadly occupied by an uninspiring house.
In 1999, I arranged a client fishing day at Lake Zonk. That was a novel thing. As a banker, I was expected to arrange golf days, but since I cant hit a golf ball to save my life, I took charge of the situation and arranged a fly fishing day. I had eight clients along for the day. We arranged tea and scones on arrival, and something on the spit for lunch. I was the perfect host, and didn’t set up a rod until everyone had had a cup of tea and a scone, and a chat, and had gone off onto the water to try their luck. As the last one went off to fish, I looked around to make sure all was done, before rigging up myself. No one had caught anything yet, despite the earliest ones having been out for nearly an hour by then. I launched my tube, paddled out a short way and caught three fantastic fish in very quick succession, trying not to whoop and whistle too much. Anglers fishing a short way off said nothing to me.
Thinking better of it, I reeled in and paddled back to the edge. I decided to rather go to the dam off to the side, where some of my guests had gone, to go and see how they were doing. As an afterthought, I took along a rod. When I arrived, I saw no one was fishing off the wall. So I decided that before I pop my head up and greet everyone there, I would drop a fly over the top, which I duly did. A five pounder grabbed the fly inches from the edge, took off like a bullet and leapt around in the middle of the small dam, showing off his belly and his acrobatics to all present. No one else had touched a fish. My one very dear customer, who was waded in opposite me, waited for me to land the fish, and then plainly and clearly called out across the water “ #$@^& off Fowler!”. I guess I deserved that.
On the 25th April 2002, I went off to Mark’s dam atop the Karkloof, and had a few hours out on the tube. A caught a bunch of strong little rainbows, all under the two pound mark, but as strong as you could wish for. The dam was clear, and the water at 19 degrees C, and the fish smacked a small black Woolly Bugger fished slow on a 4 X tippet.
On the April public holiday in 2003, Guy Robertson and I headed out to the Trout Bungalow water on the Mooi, and had ourselves some fun. The river was “full, clean and perfect in every way”. I started out with a nymph under an indicator, and caught fish that way from the start until about 1pm. The first three of those were all around the two pound mark! Then there was a slow patch where the river seemed to go dead, but from 3 pm onwards the fish came on again. I had lost guy late in the morning, and only caught up with him around 4 pm. He had caught about a dozen fish by then….a few more than me, but then the fish started rising. Guy’s traditional Invicta on a sinking line didn’t match the situation, and I landed another four lovely fish on a dry fly to take the honours. Guy never enjoyed being outfished!
In 2005, I went off to explore the very upper Inzinga on my own. I did a lot of hiking to discover that the river runs just outside the park and almost parallel to the fence for many kilometres. By the time one finds river inside the park, you are a long way up, and in those conditions, there is little fishable water left. The piece just over the fence was, and still is, totally choked with wattle. It is a sad state of affairs. On that day I poached a little…climbing the fence and having a throw amongst the gloom of the wattle, where I got a follow from one fish. That was it. It snowed that night.
Three days later, and in cool weather, with the water at just 12 degrees C, I hiked and fished Game Pass. The wattle regrowth was bad back then. I say re-growth, because this was secondary growth after the expropriation and subsequent initial clearing. I struggled through the first two kilometers, and then started fishing in earnest above the oak tree. I put the camera on a rock there and took a selfie, mainly as a record of what the wattle looked like. Later PD asked me who took the picture, and he eyed me with suspicion when I told him it was on the self-timer. He was convinced I had found a lady friend on the quiet! A few fish went for the fly that day, but it was generally very quiet after the sudden cold snap, and I didn’t land anything.
In the dying days of April in 2006, I was back at Reekie Lynn, fishing alone. “Crystal clear, quite full- perfect” I recorded in the journal. In other words, typical of late April. What a beautiful time of year!
The river was cool: 13.5 degrees C, but the weather sunny and warm. Fishing was slow, but I got three lovely fish in quick succession at Krantz pool. 15”, 13” and 12”….all on a black Plaited Nymph. But before that, I had a small fish make three attempts at my strike indicator, following it almost to my feet. I have always found that piece of pocket water very productive. I took fish from there just last week.
But before that happened, where I started out near the bottom boundary, I had a remarkable incident. I was standing on a flat rock (I often brew up a coffee there), when a decent sized fish (around 12”) swam straight towards me and into a pool of water in the bedrock at my feet which was the size of a handbasin. It swam in through a narrow channel and then circled in that tiny space. I was taken aback, and my mind was just awakening to the fact that I could put my boot across his entrance and that I would have him, when he saw me, panicked, and left in a hurry. Browns really do do the strangest things sometimes!
In April of 2008, We got wind that a particular dam in the Karklook had produced some whoppers: “two 7 pounders, and 8 and a 10”, so Dave and I headed out there in his landy. We call it the “Lumberjack’s dam” (He’s OK). Somehow we caught it on the day a front was approaching and the place was as dead as a doornail! A week later that front was still with us when my son James and I went out to Mavela. “Cold Miserable and lots of fun” I wrote, but we blanked again.
That 27th of April is a useful public holiday, and at such a great time of the year. In 2009 I used it to go and do some work on the hatchery we were running at the time, right up top in the uMngeni catchment. After preparing a fish trap for the upcoming breeding season, I got in a little over four hours stillwater fishing, across three of the dams. I had an absolute ball. I caught fish in all three dams, but on the one small dam in particular, I couldn’t go wrong. The water was clear, and the fish were on the prod from the moment the wind dropped. It was very visual…I could see them bulging and chasing insects. A damsel nymph did the business, and most of the fish were 4 pounds in weight, some a bit more. And this was after having been broken up by a fish on the dam below, which tail walked and then ran so fast that my reel overwound, snapping the 3X tippet like cotton. At some point I sat on the bank in the sun warming myself after the cool wading (The water was 13 degrees), and I texted PD to say “Leave your class (he is a teacher), tell them you are going to the bathroom, and just high tail it up here to fish”. If you own a copy of “Delicate Presentations”, go take a look at chapter 26.
In 2012, we had a NFFC club members day in the Kamberg. Not unlike our trip to the Lumberjack’s dam, this one was just hours before the arrival of a cold front. I didn’t fish for more than an hour, as I was the host, but between 27 anglers who were up and down the valley on the stillwaters, only one fish was caught. We were rained out soon after lunch. The following week we were up at the hatchery over two days, getting things ready for the season. Interesting…one day was completely dead, and 3 days later I couldn’t go wrong on any of the three dams I fished. I was fishing an emerger, and then a damsel and then a DDD, but the fish were small and innocent and the fly choice seemed to matter little.
The 28th of April 2014 saw our first frost for that year, but the water temperatures at the hatchery were still 15 degrees on that day at least. The fish were active in the dams and we all got some , mine on the FMD, the others on damsels. The following year must have been warmer, because on the same public holiday the water on Brigadoon was still 16 degrees. Once again it was clear but flowing well, and prompted the usual glowing remarks in my journal that April water does. Anton and I both got a couple of fish in the 10 to 12 inch category and all on dries: his on a Para Adams and mine on what he calls my “locusts” (largish hoppers). That day was one in which we had no need to move far, we just fished from Kings pump to The Straights over a whopping seven hours. “A day filled with fish” I wrote: we saw, missed, bumped, lost, watched and caught fish the whole time. I see that back then I was fishing the hopper with the Troglodyte just behind it, something I still do all the time in autumn….I was doing that yesterday.
The same holiday: 2018. Furth on the uMngeni. I remember it well. At one point I was perched above a high bank in the blackjacks, spotting for Rogan, who was fishing with me. I would see these little 9 or 10 inch browns wiggle up from the depths straight at his dry fly, and announce them so that he would be ready. That was probably a bad idea, because he did what I would have done and struck too early sevral times. But just as he couldn’t help himself, I was not able to contain my excitement and delay the announcement of their arrival! We had a lot of fun. It was a full day on a full clean river, at 15.5 degrees C and packed with fish. The river was scoured from a good summer, and each pool and run was a new discovery, because logjams had moved, and new gravel appeared. I got my fish on a GRHE, and a Slim Shady between the Forest Runs and the Black Hole. The following day I spent an hour at West Hastings without result. The river is so much more interesting! Having said that, we overnighted at West Hastings the following year at the same time, and I got wonderfully strong rainbows of 3.5 and 4.5 pounds respectively. While we were having a braai at the cottage there were a few slurps in the dark, and I threw a minnow into the blackness with a beer in one hand, but the fish were not playing nicely.
In 2020 we were still too early in the whole COVID thing for my bravery to have developed into clandestine fishing trips like it did a few weeks later.
By 2021 things had relaxed a whole lot and I was out the 26th and 27th of April. The former was on the Stillwater at Kumalungana, where I got two lovely Rainbows of around 2 to 3 pounds in clean 16 degree water.
The second day was with Ray on the uMngeni at Stoneycroft. We both ended up with two fish notched, but as usual that doesn’t tell the whole story. Ray had more action earlier on, although he didn’t connect with many of them. I came right as it got darker and they were more receptive to the dry fly. They weren’t big. The black jacks were bad. It was bloody magnificent! (you had to be there, in the gathering dark in that big empty valley, with Reedbuck whistling in the dark)
Last year I had two good stillwater days at the end of April. With all the cooling rain we had last year the water temps were down at 14 degrees, the dams were overflowing strongly, and there were a few fish between 3 and 5 pounds. What more could you ask for?
This year: What a year! I will tell you about it some time.