Easter time, or more specifically late March through all of April, is a magical time for us trout fly-fisherman here on the eastern seaboard of South Africa.
We have just come out of the stifling heat of February, which is about as “un-trouty” as you can get, and those of us with European origins are feeling ever so slightly more comfortable, no matter how African we profess to be.
Our rainy season is drawing to an end. We can still get rain at this time of year. In fact we can get rather a lot, but the wild unpredictability of our thunderstorms is abating.
A month ago, there was a not unreasonable chance that the river would turn into a raging torrent of chocolate while you were on your way there, or while you were busy fishing it. And I am not talking about Easter egg chocolate here. I am talking about mud. Mud was in January and February, and it came with water that more often than not was over twenty degrees C (68 degrees F). The weather was humid too, so that even on a cloudy day, you could feel sweaty.
There were trout to be had for sure, but all the talk was around releasing them carefully and water temperatures vs oxygenation.
Now, as the season turns, mornings have a crispness to them. Stepping into a stream in the morning is a thing that you hold your breath for. The moment that the stream clutches at your old ragged wading longs, you find yourself standing on tip toes!
The grass changes too. This part of the world is all about grass. It its natural state, and thankfully our mountain streams are largely in that state, there is barely a tree to be seen. The grass bolts and produces seed heads in late February. By late March it has taken on a yellowness. One doesn’t really notice this insidious change, but when you look at your December photographs, against the ones you took yesterday, you suddenly see it.
I don’t know that the trout feed more, or are more willing. It is hard to tell. Being a cold water fish they are supposed to be happier, so we tell ourselves that they are. In reality it is probably that we are happier, and fishing better as a result. We certainly get out more, so we catch more fish.
The light gets a little softer. It makes for great photography. The rain that falls is invariably cooler, and raingear and a change of clothes become important. In mid summer, it didn’t matter if you got drenched: you were either wet and warm or dry and warm. Now you want a jacket on the back seat.
When the sun is shining, it can hang above you in an azure blue sky all day, and you don’t have that feeling that its rays are penetrating your skin and boiling your blood beneath.
I for one feel a little safer not having to rely on an unseen layer of sunscreen alone to protect me from certain incineration! Days of sheltering in the shade at some point of the day, and returning home physically drained to swat mosquitoes all night, are thankfully gone.
Now you can walk the veld with something of a spring in your step.
It is a magical time, but it passes all too quickly. It is a time when the rivers will be at their best, and although the stillwaters will be good too, they will be good right through the winter, when the rivers are closed. So, figuring that one should make full use of this fleeting opportunity I advocate getting out there on our streams and rivers.
It is an Easter thing.
End of lent.
Good river trout are to be had.
Go get ‘em!
I recently came to the realisation that I have something of a penchant for fishing waters other than the "blue ribbon" ones. That is to say that I end up exploring lesser known waters or waters that are passed over by others as being second class.
I can’t quite work out why I do that. Maybe on some level I dream of re-discovering a long forgotten gem. Or maybe it is because these streams are less likely to be occupied by other fishermen. While we seldom encounter other fishermen on the river here, there is something to be said for the river bank without paths or well trampled grass. Perhaps it has something to do with my secret belief that one day I will catch a lunker from under everyone’s noses.
Or perhaps I am naturally a supporter of the underdog. The poor cousin of the great Trout stream. The waters that are forgotten by everyone else.
What I do know is that this inclination of mine sees me hiking more, and catching fewer fish. I do fish the good waters, make no mistake, but just as often I will be crawling through the undergrowth trying to find the water, while many others have their fly in a perfect drag free drift on a premium stretch of the Mooi or Bushmans.
Many of these visits, maybe you could say most of them, end in at least some disappointment. Yes, I will clock up some more exploring miles. Put little red squiggles on my GPS map, see some wildlife, or spot a new bird. But when I return fishless, albeit a little wiser, with blackjacks stuck to my clothes, I will think "maybe I should have stuck with my favourite stretch of the Mooi". And yet a few weeks later you will find me out there crawling through the undergrowth, or fishing water that may (or may not) contain Trout.
Just last week I dragged two fishing buddies on a hike that well exceeded ten kilometers. A week earlier some guys had been catching eighteen inch Browns on the main river. Logic said we should have been there, but instead we were on a virtually unheard of tributary. We had explored the lower reaches but, inspired by deceptively attractive Google Earth images, I lured my mates ever higher into the hills. Near to our furthest point I hooked and landed an unidentified minnow of microscopic proportions. It was the only piscatorial event of the day.
"This is a long way to come to catch a mudfish!" commented PD.
Hours later, having hiked back to within site of the pickup, he spotted a Brown that he reckoned would have gone two pounds. Thank heavens he didn’t catch it. I would never have heard the end of that.