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.
“You will hear the silence of the folded hillside brushed by the wind in its grasses..”
The other day I grasped an opportunity to go out on the river alone. From time to time I have this urge for the utter solitude and peace of being alone on the water for a full day. In fact I have that urge most weekends, and seldom get to fulfill the dream. So when this particular late September day dawned, I woke with my soul upon the lip of the precipice, ready to soar. I was happy. I left my bed with a sense of freedom and liberation. I had awoken early. The kids were baby-sat.
All was well until I reached the bedroom window and drew back the curtain a few inches to inspect the conditions. It had been raining. In fact my memory was suddenly jogged that in the half sleep of the bewitching hour, I had heard a thunderstorm and the drumming of the gutters. It was now cold and miserable. I stepped back and pondered the situation briefly, and then looked again.
Several years ago I was lucky enough to join a Kombi load of fly-fishermen, and travel down to the unlikely destination of Somerset East in the Cape to get some trout.
On that trip, Maurice Broughton and I were assigned a beat on the tiny Naude’s river, and with our guide, we had an enjoyable morning hunting trout in the better pools.
At lunchtime we found a lovely willow tree growing in a patch of lush grass beside a pool in the stream.
We settled down to some sandwiches, and if memory serves, a chilled bottle of wine!
While we were sitting there, enjoying the tranquil setting, a small trout began rising at the head of the pool. He rose a few times, right up in the funnel. Right up where the water cascaded over some stone into the pool.
He only rose a few times and then stopped. Maurice and I began to postulate as to what he might be taking. We decided it was a terrestrial of some sort, because nothing was hatching, but a light breeze buffeted the veld grass beside the water.
It was then that we decided to have some fun.
I recently spent a few days with four friends on some magnificent trout rivers. On that particular trip we made a point of dividing ourselves differently each day, and heading out onto our booked beats, only to regroup at lunch time, or perhaps in the evening.
Over those days we fished long hours, and all caught many good trout. However, despite the long stretches of time on the water, I found myself watching my colleagues fish for many enjoyable hours, particularly after I had caught a few trout, and settled into the day in question.
A memorable day on the Bokspruit at Carabas. One of the most beautiful pieces of water I know.
I was out the other morning on a piece of water I hadn’t fished in a while. It was one of those peculiar days when everything seems quite on its head.
I had set my alarm for five minutes to four on that Sunday morning. At around three I couldn’t stand the suspense any more and looked at the clock to see how long it would be before the thing went off. No luck….still another hour. Barely enough time to get sleepy when you’re sleepless. Too long to sit around waiting for a decent departure time. After what seemed an agonizingly long time of resisting the temptation to look at the clock again, I noticed a pale light oozing through the curtains. I grabbed the clock, and just about throttled the damned thing. It hadn’t gone off! Now I was ‘late” by 35 minutes. You don’t want to be 35 minutes late in mid summer when there’s just an hour or two on the water before the sun starts roasting the heads of the trout and fisherman alike.
Anyway there I was out there in the mist and the rain, with my collar turned up to the South Easterly wind, dipping my frigid hands into the water to warm them.
(Yes, in the water) It had blown in cold you see, but the water was still a seething cauldron from the heat wave of the previous two days. The water was 23 degrees. The air was about 16 degrees. I prefer it the other way around, and the think that any self respecting trout would agree with me on that.
I am not immune to the vagaries of laziness and the inability to arise from my warm bed before dawn. However, when I go fishing on a summer’s morning I tell myself that I will never remember the morning that I slept in.
My mornings on a river are however unforgettable.
On Saturday I went out before dawn and made my way up to the Umgeni as I am inclined to do from time to time in the summer.
“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!