Sunday dawned hotter than all the rest. Hot and still. I was up at five in the morning, and set out through the wet grass to look for rising trout, and it was warm then. The sun was shining at a low angle across the water and my eyes ached as I scanned the water and tried to track my dry fly. A fish swirled here and there. Once or twice within casting distance. I changed dry fly several times: Beetles, para RAB’s, a DDD, and a midge, damsel and Copper John on the dropper. I held my hand up to screen my eyes. Later I stood behind a small willow, merely for the relief its trunk gave me. I positioned myself directly behind the trunk, in its narrow shade, and then side cast my fly under the willow fronds, merely to escape the piercing rays. It was then that I realized I was grateful for the slender shade of the trunk, and at the same time that it was now hot. It was 6 am.
I walked back to the cottage. As I did, I noticed more swirls, and also the dimples of fleeing minnows, and the formula dawned on me. My fly box with minnows in it was back at the cottage.
Later, after a hearty breakfast, and time with our feet up, my wife and I decided to set up under a willow, with bottles of cold water and our books. I moved the deck chairs, put on sunscreen, took off my boots, and sighed at the prospects of a hot day. The three days prior had been cloudy and windy and stormy and misty: all changing and interesting, and cool. Weather as interesting as a broken landscape, and with patches of great promise between, when the trout would surely come on the rise. Periods of wind change, or calm after a cooling storm, or breezy with scudding clouds and patches of mist. Times that breathed promise and opportunity. But I had yet to hit it right. I had not connected. Sure, I had caught 2 or 3 fish: one off the front lawn in near darkness on a dry fly. One on a dragonfly nymph just after the storm, that sort of thing. But I had missed fish, had takes, been broken off twice due to poor knots, and not landed more than two in any one day. On the Saturday I put in a solid six hours and all I had to show for it was a missed follow. You know the thing where you pull the fly out of the mouth of a following fish, and watch it turn as it sees you. And you curse your stupidity for hours thereafter. And that had been it.
Now, as I put the chairs down and resigned myself to a day of waiting out the stifling still weather, I saw one or two last bulges. Last remnants surely, of the morning’s minnow gluttony. My wife was still busy inside, so I found the box with minnow imitations in it, and tied one on. She still wasn’t out of the cottage yet, so I quickly threw all my stuff into the canoe, and leaving my water bottle under the tree, and wearing an old pair of crocs, I pushed off. Just off the front lawn I dropped an anchor, and started casting a minnow imitation in the direction of one or two more swirls I had seen. The water was a pea soup of food. There were midges, and ants, and corixae and damselfly nymphs. Dragonflies darted over the water, swallows swooped, and the sun beat down mercilessly.
Nature would surely take a break any minute now and sit out the searing heat of day as I was about to do.
Then a fish grabbed the minnow strongly, and set off for open water. I raised the rod tip triumphantly, gathered the loose line, and got my mind in gear to fight a fierce fish, which was pulling line. That’s when my knot gave in.
When I had finished muttering and swearing and analysing the errors of my ways, and tying on a new minnow pattern, I looked up, and saw more fish were moving. I threw the minnow out again. I retrieved in a manner as alluring and enticing as I could conjure in the dead calm sticky conditions. I sucked the minnow back in, just under the surface, there under a burning white sun. More fish were rising now. Porpoising. I had a take on the minnow….just a tug, and then it was gone. I threw it again, but fish were porpoising everywhere now, so after a few casts I changed to a midge. That was when fish started cartwheeling into the sky. I quickly rigged the other rod with a caddis, and threw that out before retrieving the one with the midge on. The next five fish porpoised. I tied a sunk buzzer below the emerger I had on the five weight, and when three casts of the caddis drew no result, I put that back out. Now the fish were swirling. I looked at the water. There were copper beetles. I took the caddis off and threw it into the canoe, and tied on a beetle imitation. The fish were back to cartwheeling. I threw the beetle. A hundred fish swirled. Twenty porpoised. A dozen cartwheeled. I looked into the water beside the boat. Caenis; hoppers; beetles (Black and copper); one or two winged ants, midges. I put on a tiny ant imitation, throwing the buzzer and emerger in the boat. I cast. The tops of my feet were burning. I threw off the crocs and dug in my vest for sunscreen, which I rubbed on my feet. I cast the tube aside. Fish were getting airborne again. My leader was sinking. I pulled it in and coated it in silicone paste, threw the tub in the boat, put the caddis back on and cast. I readied the other rod with a larger ant. The caddis was being ignored by fish that were taking insects either side of my line. There were a lot more winged ants around now .
The fish were going nuts now. I pulled in the caddis, and started tying on ants. I needed more tippet. Fish were rising right beside the hull of the boat.I was battling to see the fine nylon, and my hands were shaking. “Andy! Look behind you”, my wife shouted from the shore. “To hell with behind me” I muttered. The fish had practically been splashing water into the canoe for the last hour. “I Know!” I said politely. “Yes, but that fish is just rolling around on the surface continually” she said. Said she had never seen anything like it. My hands shook. I finally got both ants on, tossed the tippet spools in the hull, and threw the team out. This leader was sinking. I had treated the other one. I pulled it in, and went scrambling through the junk in the boat searching for the silicone paste. Fish started porpoising again, and my ants went unnoticed. I rigged the other rod with a big black DDD, and a few minutes later I cast that, and then changed the small ant on the point to a little black emerger. Threw the ant in the boat. Pulled in the DDD . Tossed the ant team. Fish were in the air again. I stood on the sun cream. Sweat ran down my neck. My line wrapped around a discarded croc. I kicked it away and I retrieved and threw again. My feet burned. Fish rose. The sun baked.
And then it happened.
To the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” , sung by a choir of a hundred maidens, and with an orchestra in grandiose accompaniment playing in my mind, a small and gracious rainbow, porpoised over my large ant in slow motion. I raised the rod in celebration, the hook set, and the knot held. My wife videoed from the shore. I took a photo.
The fish swam off. And the rise was over.
I paddled back, and tipped all the junk out of the boat to sort out later, and crawled gasping to the willow tree, croaking “water!”. The lake returned to the lifeless state of the past three days, The sun beat down hard, and I sat under the tree, took off my sweaty hat and shook my head in disbelief.
I wonder if this is what Isaak Walton had in mind when he said to “be quiet and go a angling”…
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!