Mid Winter music

“ In fishing you can be shown how to cast, to set the hook, to maintain a tight line and play a Trout – but these are only mechanics and their mere implementation cannot be called fishing any more than vibrating air can be called music” Ted Leeson, Jerusalem Creek.

Somehow I keep forgetting how cold it gets. All this talk of global warming. Throw in a single winter that is somehow off the pace, and suddenly I find myself surprised and with numb fingers.

The Cop sent me a picture of his frozen windscreen this morning, and I discovered it was just down the road from where I live. Last week I was out on my canoe when the sun dipped below the horizon, and my wet hands started to ache on cue. I remembered that I once used  a face-cloth as a hand towel to keep my digits dry (and supposedly warmer), but it somehow was no longer in my kit. I was left trying to wipe my hands dry on the crinkly surface of my now frozen jacket with each retrieve of wet line. It didn’t work.  I decided to bank the pleasant memory reverberations of the strong, tugging rainbow I had just landed, handle a very wet anchor, a very cold paddle, and get across to where the others were around a welcoming fire on the shore. There was a time when I would have stayed out and tried for one more fish.

fishermen from long ago

There was a time  a bunch of us went to Hopewell just ahead of a cold front, and I somehow packed just a single loosely knitted  jersey. I hadn’t bothered to look at the weather, the miserable jersey let a lot of wind in, and it snowed.  I got really sick after that trip, but what I remember most was the fishing. Strong silver bars, devoid of spots, but as Men At Work were singing at the time : full of muscle. 

The trips since then are a blur. The winter ones. They are of course all a blur, but winter is marked by an alluring passage of savage black nights, white frosts and blue skies that does something to me. There is a timelessness to harsh mornings and the passage of days dotted with incessant north winds, interspersed with rare still ones. Days when the water is like glass, and the scent of silage, frost melted on dead grass, and cattle on the maize stalks, inhabits my senses.  Hours standing on a dam wall, with boots and gathered fly line in the dry veld grass. With deep clear water laid out in front, inviting my eyes to peer ever further into its depths in search of ghosts, just out of reach. The ghosts of giant Trout.  With hours that march like the repetition of African music: that repetition which Johnny Clegg explained makes time sail by un-noticed if you will just allow your mind to be captivated by its enduring rhythm.

There is no hurrying winter hours, just as there is no hurrying winter Trout.

Winter Trout come in their own time. Like a single ten pounder I landed a few years ago while fishing with The Boardermaster. Him and I did about 8 hours straight, and that was the only fish we saw.

Back in my school days, I once did eight consecutive days of winter flyfishing without landing a fish. There is no hurrying winter trout. There is no hurrying winter days.

Winter days are like Trout eggs. They will pass when they have accumulated enough warmth. Trout eggs will hatch when enough degree days have passed. And degrees of warmth are not forthcoming on winter days, so we have to wait, just as a Trout egg must wait. Just as a fisherman must wait. Patiently.  I learned that while breeding Trout and not catching all that many fish during a decade of winters up near the source of the Poort stream: That giant shallow basin of waters and winds.  Sometimes we just sat there in a shipping container, waiting for the temperature of newly received ova to equalise at no more than a degree an hour. There was no wind to beat out a whistling tune in the night. But there was beer, and music in our hearts.

I fished seemingly endless days there, and I return there sometimes still. I return to anchor the troughs of the beat. To set the winter metronome before its inexorable swing back to the heights of summer.  Its icy waters are magnetic, as are many others.   Deep green-blue waters that wash the soul, coupled with time. Time which causes the reek of rejection and betrayal to fade incrementally. One must just wait beside the water. Water which washes away frustrations as quickly as its winter temperature takes your breath away. Water and time. Flow and beat. Metronome and elixir. Patience and excitement. Juxtaposition and synchronicity. Clegg was a master.


Last month, a few of us went up a mountain, and came back with pictures of strong Trout from 3 to 6 pounds in weight, and in need of a hot shower. 

I remember an evening there, standing at the lake shore caressing the worn cork of my old five weight and gazing out over the blue-black waves pushing from the west. It was an inhospitable scene. The strange warm comfort of the lights from the mast across the valley were diminished by the fact that the ones on top had stopped working. I was on my own. If you were out there in your light aircraft flying low, looking for a safe landing strip, you were on your own. The Trout had stopped rising, and there was nothing to suggest that I might get another one. The others were in the cottage before a glowing fire, and my ears didn’t fit under the beanie I was wearing. 

But I stayed.

I fished.

My casts weren’t going out far. I don’t seem to be able to fight a stiff breeze with a big fly like I used to. But the bugger was landing with enough of a plop that I could mentally mark its landing spot, and each time, the facet of the particular wave it chose to dive through somehow seemed infinitely promising. They always do. I could picture a mid-sized Brown in just that spot. A dark and lonesome fish, patrolling that exact route along the shoreline in the near dark. In the cold.

Next cast. Same again. Surely, this time?

I fished, because it is what I do. It is what I have done for all my time. In all the blue-green ghost waters.  It is my rhythm. It is who I am.

2 Responses

  1. Beautifully written, Andrew – the essence of Winter is captured. And I remember very well the 10 pounder – what a fish! Well worth the effort in the winter chill.

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