Back in 2017, I was taking a bunch of people on a walk along the river. There were a lot of ladies in the party, and at the outset, I had told them that there was only one fence crossing, but that every crossing thereafter would be through a gate, or over a neat galvansised stile, placed there for their comfort and convenience. I had visited the one crossing I had anticipated, and finding a very tight fence, I had scanned up and down the fence-line to find the best place to make the crossing. The best I could get was a spot where they would have to get down on their bellies and crawl. I could find nothing better.
In preparation for subjecting them to that indignity, I cut a short piece of plastic pipe, which I planned to use to shroud the barbed wire. It was the least I could do. After apologizing to them for their little leopard crawl, I swung my piece of plastic pipe confidently and we walked on. Later we encountered a fence I had forgotten about. Then another. One lady asked how much further it was to the pickup point.
I promised it was not far now and that there were no more fences to climb though. Absolutely zero. No Bull. I promised them.
Further upstream was a place where there was no stile, but a gate within sight of the river bank. Unfortunately there was a bull at the gate …..with his harem of cows. I thought for a moment. How difficult can it be to move a bull? Deciding that boldness was the way to go, I reasoned further that attack was a better approach that gentle moral suasion. He might have had his cows, but I had a bunch of ladies and a promise of no more fences. So I wielded my little plastic pipe, and charged straight at him, making some aggressive half Zulu, half cowboy whooping noises that seemed appropriate at the time. The bull stood his ground. In fact he had a mildly bemused look on his face, and when I pulled up right in front of him, and he hadn’t so much as taken a step back. Then, just to show who was in charge, he lowered his head, and came straight for me. I beat him repeatedly on his forehead with my piece of plastic pipe. It seemed to stop him. I think he must have wondered what this little tickle was between his eyes. I retreated….walking backwards to start with, and with shaking knees. When I was far enough back to make an unguarded retreat, I turned around, to see a bunch of sensible women climbing through and over the fence.
If you think I am talking bull….I have witnesses!
I put a stile at that point. Within sight of the gate. That seems a little odd, but I have my reasons.
It was just up from that point that Ilan and I once had to perform for the camera. The cameraman wanted footage of us fishing, and although he didn’t say as much, one can assume that he meant it to include the catching of Trout. The first run saw us getting into the swing of things and finding our feet. That is a euphemism for catching bushes on the back-cast, and nothing in the river. They took a lot of footage, and I at least was suffering from a little anxiousness relating to the catch rate, which at that point was a fat round number. It was starting to get hot, and sweat was trickling down my face. Imagine my relief when just up at Picnic pool, a very generous Trout obliged and did me the honours. After that it was straight off to breakfast in a shady cool restaurant.
Further above Picnic pool is a spot that I have marked on my map simply as “Tractor crossing”. When I told the new owner of the farm that there was a place there to get his tractor across to help us pull logs from the stream, he disagreed, saying there was no such crossing on his farm. I protested that I had fished it many times, and I assured him that there was most definitely a crossing where his tractor could get through. No bull!
We later got his John Deere through the river there, and put it to good effect clearing the run from boundary pool all the way down through Nanna Berry Pool and below.
Last week I was back at “Tractor Crossing” to perform a mini SASS test. This is a fun exercise where you net the river for bugs and then tip the contents into a white tray to identify the contents. The insect types are located on a identity guide, and entered onto a bio-monitoring score sheet gives an indication of river health. I looked around, and chose a spot to balance my white trays, and lay down my field guides, pencil, score sheets and the like. The farm track leading through the river presented the perfect spot, and since I wasn’t expecting traffic, I boldly occupied the roadway with my gear. After holding the net in the current and shuffling my feet in the gravel upstream of it, I moved to the shore, and tipped the contents into the white tray. Then I plonked myself down in the veld, got comfortable and entered my own little world, prodding bugs, looking in books, and taking photos.
Presently I became aware of a deep grumbling sound, and I looked up from my work. There, on the far side of the drift, was a bull. He was snorting, pawing the ground, and grumbling at me. Looking behind me, on my side of the river, I saw his cows. I glanced at all my kit strewn about in the veld, and I looked at the roughness of the crossing. Figuring that he would have difficultly charging me across the river, and that it would be an enormous effort to shift my study site, I decided to stand my ground. So I stood up, looked him in the eye, and in no uncertain terms, told him to bugger off, and go find his own crossing spot, because, in case he couldn’t see, this one was already occupied. Thank you very much!
On the week-end, PD and I joined friends on a Stillwater nearby. We attended to some DIY matters at our fishing shack there, re-connected with fellow fly-fishers, and after a few lunchtime cooldrinks we set about a bit of fishing. If you could call it that. I at least stayed standing up, tossing a fly somewhat mindlessly. PD gave in to that post lunchtime condition that affects the eyelids, and lay back in the grass. We talked. We chatted family, and friends, and this Trout water and that. PD recalled trips to this water as a varsity student, once with a sick friend, once when it was half frozen over. I landed a small rainbow, and lost another, probably without drawing breath. The Irishman, fishing further down the shoreline was yabbering a lot less.
In fact he was alone, fishing well as he always does, not yabbering at all, and he was catching fish on a DDD.
A little later we decided we had had our fill. It had been a fun day out, with much talk and a lot less serious fishing. As we trundled across the veld, I retold my story of the bull interrupting my mini SASS. And as I explained to PD, when I told that bull off, it actually listened, turned tail, and went and found another spot to cross the river! As PD climbed from the bakkie to open the last gate, he said “all that proves is that you talk bull”.
I don’t remember what the occasion was, but a number of us had been invited up to Bill Duckworth’s Trout syndicate at the top end of the Dargle Valley.
We were staying over at the “Opera House” , and it was a colourful gathering to say the least.
It was October of 1995. Spring had sprung, and I remember a cool wind across short green veld, some of which still bore traces of ash from the winter burn.
I remember Bill strolling out onto the front “lawn” of the cottage in his stripy pyjamas in the morning with a pair of garden shears, to trim a small tree so gnarled from the cruel weather up there, that I remember thinking that it hardly needed Bill’s help in containing itself. Bill asked me to move my vehicle around the back, since its presence beside his target shrub was doing little to improve the view. It was quite early, and many of the guys were still snoring. Being the youngest, I was up early….keen to fish. I don’t know why Bill was up, but I politely obliged by moving the car, before setting off to fish.
I started out at the top dam, where a number of small fish were moving. I was in adventurous spirits though, so at some point I reeled in, and headed down the steep rocky valley that leads from the wall of the top dam, down to “woodley”. In those days there was no cottage down there, but the dam, the newest on the property, nestled in the valley in an inviting sort of way.
I was wearing some very heavy canvass waders. I had brought them back with me from the States a few years earlier. They were direct from the Orvis shop in Vermont, which I had visited, and were my pride and joy. They weighed a ton. Boot-foot they were.
I waded in to the cool water at Woodley dam, and tried my luck there for a while.
Then at some point I realised that the weather had turned warm and blustery, and that my walk back up the valley in those hot waders was not going to be fun. However while I had been fishing, the others had come down to “bottom dam” in a couple of the vehicles, and I could see them off to the West, fishing that water. I figured I would mosey over there and look needful round about the time they were due to head back for breakfast. So I reeled in and walked over.
When I arrived at the dam, I was really hot! So I walked straight up to the nearest shore, checked to see I wasn’t too close to one of the others, and waded in quite deep so as to benefit from the temperature of the water.
I figured that while I was there, and since the others weren’t showing any sign of leaving, I would throw a fly. At some point I saw a dorsal fin porpoise in the water ahead of me, and on the strength of that, I put on a whopper of a DDD…the largest one I had in my box. Size 6!
The fly rode out there in the waves like a small ship, and I stood there, enjoying the cool water, and not particularly hopeful of anything in particular.
Then the dorsal appeared, and neatly swallowed my fly . I struck, and the fight was on.
Mike was nearby, and I remember him appearing on the scene to ask if I had a net. I replied that I had. I had a small folding net that had belonged to my grandfather. Just then the fish jumped. “Um, about that net Mike”. No…he didn’t have one either. Mine would have to do.
The fish jumped again.
“I think you had better wade back to within the weeds Andrew” he said “because if that thing sees you, you have had-it!”. They were wise words, and I followed Mike’s advice. Mike didn’t know I was using five pound tippet.
It wasn’t long after that, that the fish came past like a stream train, just off the weed-bed. I saw it coming, and at the last minute I thrust the net out in front of it, and it swam straight in.
The fish was very surprised, and it was not ready to give in. I dropped the rod, and holding the net with one hand, I grabbed its tail with the other, since only its head was in the hopelessly small net.
I walked ashore, and a few meters more, just to be sure she didn’t manage a spectacular escape.
Trevor weighed her. Try as he may, he could not get her to tip the scales at ten pounds, but she was mighty close.
The actual fly that I got her on. It has since lost its tail to the elements.
It was quite a fish.
The fish today, on my lounge wall. The inscription on the brass plate comes from one of my favourite poems.
Bill was thrilled at the size of the fish that had come from his waters. He was even more thrilled when he heard that the fly used to catch it, was the one named after him. He asked if he could have a look. “My goodness” Bill said, in his inimitable falsetto whisper tone. “I’ve never seen one so big! Could you tie me some of those?”
How could I refuse.
A few weeks later I met up with Bill somewhere. I pulled out my car’s ashtray, which in those days was used to store trout flies. I had it crammed with enough big DDD’s for Bill, myself, and a few other guys I had promised some to.
“My, those look wonderful” said Bill, as he turned the ashtray upside down, collecting the whole lot, and after quickly admiring them, he crammed them into his waiting box, and he was off with them all!