No 9 from the vestry

Picking a Trout out of his smoking room

My Dad and his good friend Warwick where Church wardens at St Andrew’s Church in the Dargle. Now as kids were were never entirely sure what that entailed;  beyond perhaps helping the dominee polish off the leftover communion wine after a poorly attended service.  Good Anglicans are not allowed to let blessed wine be spilled.

We do know that Warwick on more than one occasion took to his pipe to while away the time as the padre donned his robe or the organist completed the introductory dirge on her wheezy pipe organ.

One such occasion was on a Yuletide morning.  We were seated on the hard pews, with thoughts more on the opening of Christmas presents than what the padre had lined up for us. Our cousins were up on the farm for their annual visit and my young cousin Tim was seated beside me.  Smoke billowed from the small vestry into the Church, as Warwick worked his pipe-ignition sequence,  when Tim, in his  not-so-small voice  piped up “Is Father Christmas having a braai?”

Now, on the Bhungane beat yesterday, there was no time for a braai. The fishing was just too engaging.  Not so frenetic perhaps that I couldn’t stop and eat my sarmies on the bank while watching the swallows feeding their young in the burrows opposite, but there were fish to be had. 

Eight fish, by that time, if we must put a number to it. I am not a numbers man as such. The Viking and I have a particular aversion to the “clicker brigade”, as he has labelled them. But I do have a journal with ten lines in which to record fish caught. The journal is a neat affair, and going over to eleven and twelve makes it look a bit messy, so I do keep an eye on the number for the purposes of ensuring I don’t overdo it. So let’s  call it a noble tally, shall we?

Anyway, I was after number 9 after a late lunch. And I had arrived at that melange of deep green water, incised banks, and water chutes, in the vicinity of the pedestrian bridge that marks the top of the beat. 

It comprises a whole lot of confusing back eddies and obscure currents, and unexpected drop-offs that make drag management a taxing affair. The depth and often glacial nature of the water do however scream “Braai!”, and as you start to fish it, you kinda can’t wait to open your Christmas present.

So I started off on the true left bank, working the outside of the thalweg….the drift line that suggests water that will bring Mr Trout his lunch, but not at a speed that has him working up a sweat.   I had repeated pleasing drifts. No drag. The dropper fly cocked and drifting with its red sighter glowing in the low angled afternoon sun.  Deep promising water.


Then I eyed the far bank. The fast water. It ran hard against a vertical wall, with white caps and churn. Perfect for a euro-nympher perhaps, but not a fly fisherman. But in one spot, there was a scallop in the bank: a sort of inversed bulge. It looked like one of those safety alcoves in tunnels where workers squeeze in to let a truck roar past. A vestry. I eyed the thing for a while, and observed how a tiny section of deep green water lapped against the bank in contrast to the truck of a current that flowed past. 

If I was Mr Brown, I thought, I would hole up in there to light my pipe. 

So I risked life and limb, and waded into the hard current, and just out the other side, where my left shoulder was hard to the wall, but there was some respite from the rush of the water.

One “chuck” as Oliver Kite called it, and I was in. No 9 dashed into the current, and leapt into the air, and landed and jumped again. Those moments were slow-motion and beautiful, as much as they were heart-stopping. The fish was silhouetted against the late afternoon sun, so all I saw was his black shape. All I felt was his incessant tugging.

And then I netted him, and took a quick picture.

And smiled.

To memories made.

“Shall we Braai tonight?” I shouted to Roy up above on his birthday.

And I went home to do my lines. 

Brown Trout


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