The mornings have been cold. Lake fringes, boats and tackle have been laced with ice. The sun has been golden, sweet and welcome. The water has been sparkling, clear, and shimmering blue in contrast to the dusty veld. The Trout have been willing at times. We have had small strong silver fish, and larger Rainbows, flushed in deep colours. We have warded off the chilly breezes with jackets and gloves and “buffs”. Hot coffee has been essential.
The sunsets have come quickly.
Waelcyrge is the Gaelic spelling of the word Valkyrie. And the Valkyries, are apparently winged figures of Anglo-Saxon mythology. They come swiftly over the battlefield after the dust has settled, and choose at random, the lucky souls that are destined to Valhalla (Heaven). And loosely linked to this, the Vikings may have brought to Britain when they invaded, the practice of planting Yew trees in their graveyards, as a means of linking the bodies below with Valhalla above. Yew trees still grow in English graveyards to this day. The first Viking king of Britain was King Canute, who was famously placed on the beach by his supporters, in the belief that the sea would hold itself back in his presence. It didn’t. He got his feet wet.
And why am I telling you this somewhat shaky history?
Well because Waelcyrge is the name of my boat.
She was made by a master craftsman, who lived in England at the time, and who made her from a Yew tree in an English graveyard, that had to come down. He cut it down, planked it, and made it into this:
It is a simple fact that hardly anyone can afford to have a dedicated fishing car of any quality nowadays. There are those who have written about their fishing cars, but they were all somehow old “jalopies” (as we call them in South Africa), that made for a good story but were not reliable enough to provide a fishing trip of any comfort. So the reality is that the vehicle one goes to work in every day, has to double as your fishing car.
With this in mind, any self respecting fly-fisherman, will of course choose his vehicle without any consideration to its normal everyday use. He will buy it for his outdoor pursuits alone, and live with its idiosyncrasies on the city streets. I applaud that.
I too have chosen my mode of transport over the last two decades, with regard only for my fishing.
I have in fact done this only twice, because rightly or wrongly, I like to drive a vehicle until it can drive no more. I started with “Rufus” some 17 years ago. Rufus was a maroon coloured Ford ranger, 2 wheel drive 2,5 diesel double cab. What a “bakkie” that was! I christened it with a fishing trip to the Rhodes area within weeks of having bought it, thus consummating it’s role as a fishing vehicle.
This morning as my vehicle sputtered reluctantly to life, it coughed out a slug of yesterday’s dust through the air-vents, long before it breathed any warmth into the frigid cab. The dust in question was the only pervading reminder of our travels in Trout country.
I had been a dastardly day. High wind, coming out of either the South or the West or some cold place in between. Wind that , having touched some sparse dirty snow somewhere, then thrashed the surface of the dams into icy whitecaps.
We tried to fish of course. The canoe was duly launched, and wrapped in heavy jackets and beanies, we climbed clumsily aboard and dug the oars deeply into the crystal clarity of a deep green lake. On arrival at our normal spot we dropped anchor. More correctly, we dropped both anchors. Heavy weather calls for such measures. PD asked for instructions on the anchor protocol. “Just throw the thing overboard” I yelled into the wind. And he did.
“Because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness” Robert Traver.
On Saturday my boys & I headed out to a lake that lies amongst the pine trees, at the very end of a fine long ridge that runs all the way from Mooi River to Greytown.
We reached the top of that same ridge by driving up from Howick, through the Karkloof, on what you might call ‘the scenic route’. This is a wonderful drive, taking you up a narrow snaking road through the Karkloof forest. After cresting the ridge you descend to the junction with the main road at Rietvlei. We turned right onto this road , that more or less follows the high ground all along its route.
At times one gets a glimpse of the thornveld of the Mooi and Tugela river valleys off to the North, and moments later one might get a sneak look down to the South, where a cradle of pine forests stretches off in the direction of ‘Seven Oaks’ and beyond.
Having travelled through Greytown on to the gravel roads through the plantations, we came out at the very top of the high ground, where we turned in at the airstrip. The boys were bubbling over with high spirits by this time, and our encounter with a comical warthog fueled their excitement. He raced us down the landing strip as though he might take off at any moment, and then, just as suddenly as we had encountered him, he veered off, and handed the baton to four magnificent Waterbuck, that leaped across the road in front of us.
Soon the water appeared between the trees and we were parking and offloading the ‘red eyed damsel’, our trusty little canoe.
The boys were quickly out on the water, and I put up my float tube and ventured out to join them at the inlet to the East.
It was one of those glorious summer days when its just perfect. Not too hot, not at all cold. Clouds drifting about, and the sun trying hard to dominate, but somehow never succeeding for long. The water looked a deep dark green. A sort of brooding mysterious look, often accompanied by the whiff of soft pine needles and the hope of big trout. Insects hatched here and there, and fluttered off, backlit against the dark beneath the tall stands of pines. There is something so unique about a pine forest. I don’t know what it is. It is such a soft, quiet wonderland amongst the rows of tree trunks, and when that all comes down to the waters edge on a sparkling lake its just very special.
The water was surprisingly warm, but the small stock fish did not seem to mind. In fact those little trout seemed to be in wonderland too. While I drifted, reclining in my tube, and throwing long lazy casts towards the shoreline, they just leaped for joy. They were careering out of the water and landing two feet further on, in a great big splash, often on their sides, in ‘belly flops’ that would have had kids at the junior school gala all saying “oooh” in unison. One could theorise that they were taking the caddis that were hatching, but it is much more likely that they were simply jumping for joy. They were as playful as kittens and calves!
This show of magic had the desired affect on the boys, who judged the size of the fish by the splash they made, and were suitably impressed.
Fish bumped and knocked the fly all day, and both boys had had the opportunity to bring one in before we broke for lunch.
Lunch was a rendevoux at some magical spot in the shade beside the lapping waves. The beer, delivered along with sandwiches by boat from the other side, was cold, crisp, and heaven sent.
After lunch James took his dad out in the Red Eyed Damsel to catch a particularly cocky fish that had been trying to splash us all through our meal. He turned out to be a a master boatsman, but the fish was un-cooperative. Having found his ‘sea legs’ James proceeded to make deliveries and attend to other logistical challenges that a good sized piece of water offers up, while I tubed happily.
The fish took a sunk beetle on the dropper, and a small brown nymph on the point. They chose to ignore Luke’s dry fly, but somehow they managed to pull that off without offending him. I think things were just too pleasant for anyone to get uptight. The evening brought a bit more cloud and a breeze that ushered in a brooding storm, but it stayed away long enough for us to get in some more fishing. We threw little black beetles from the shore, aiming the backcast into slots between tree trunks, and when the fish moved out, I followed them in the tube. They seemed to like that little beetle! It is a creation of peacock herl, and black foam, with some rubber legs and a touch of bright yarn on the back of its head to make it visible.
They slashed at it and grabbed it from amongst the waves, before an ominous roll of thunder sent us to the shore.
We stowed our gear, and hoisted the boat back onto the roof in preparation for the drive into the scarlet haze that hovered under the clouds to the West. Time for a quick record of events with the camera’s self timer, and we were off.
A quick stop off in Greytown got us a burger and chips, which was devoured to the spectacle of columns of flying ants under every roadside light en route home via Maritzburg.
All in all a magical day, that shall remain etched in my memory, and no doubt that of my sons as well. It sure beats the mall!