The happy season that was, the one between the arrival of the cuckoos and the arrival of the mosquitoes, is now behind us.
Now we have fierce heat, fierce storms, and humidity in between. We have mosquitoes too. I live in fear. The big ones must be on their way. They bite your head off and drink you like a coke.
It has been a great spring, I think. By my reckoning, it has been a cool one, (Hell, we had snow in October!) , and it has been a relatively wet one too. Having said that, I got a message from my friend Tim the other day to say “Water 21 degrees. Returned some fish carefully, but don’t rate their chances. Stopping fishing now”, or words to that effect. Also, Midmar and Spring Grove dams have little more than stabilised in water level at around 40%. Many Trout dams are also not yet full.
But we are in big storm season now. Just yesterday we sat on the porch with a cold beer and watched a fierce storm build to the north. “Do you think it looks green?” I asked my daughter rhetorically before adding “I think it looks green” . Green storms signal hail. I parked under the tree in case.
This morning friends reported that it had missed Notties, but a video emerged of carnage to the north of that. Carnage would be good I think. A slow spring has allowed river banks to cover in grass, holding them firm, and Midmar needs the water. I would also like a hundred trillion wattle sticks to wash themselves from the upper Umgeni, and save us the man-hours, and the trouble. Midmar normally only overflows around the first week of February, but as soon as you have a few days dry patch, pundits begin citing that the dam isn’t even overflowing. PD confirmed that it doesn’t overflow before his birthday. I am happy to wait and watch. Hopefully “watch” will mean watching some carnage by way of those fierce storms. But since we are playing catch-up, we can give it until the first of March before we expect the dam to overflow.
Wild storms mean dirty streams, and I was reminded the other day that silt particles in the water absorb more heat and cause warmer water. Warmer water holds less oxygen. So we can’t have it all. Rank grass and healthy forest trees on those steep south banks mean more shade though, and rain water, besides having a slightly acid pH, can be cool, so I will take my chances with wild storms over drought any day.
We will just have to pick our fishing days between hot days and dirty rivers. We must also remind ourselves that many a superb day on the stream has been had while sweat trickled down our necks.
I can always go sit out on a big stillwater in a tube and roast while I wait for a storm to roll in.
Or I can go fish in the rain.
As my friend Rhett says ”Just harden the @#$?& up Bevan!”
I arrived back from a business trip to the north starved of music. During that week, in a country where the power authority is lobbying for 25 hrs of load shedding per day, work and discussions of work, left no space for music. But on my return domestic servants were bopping and jiving in front of a sink full of dirty dishes to the new “fall song”. Very catchy!
The middle Mooi was also apparently bopping and jiving in a brown sort of way. There had been heavy rain up on Allandale, and the algae is being flushed out of that river and elsewhere. If I can find a clean river, I think I will head out with REM, Billy Joel and others to keep me company. Flush the cobwebs out of my head. Shake off this droughty, hot green season, of work and troubles, and fish a nymph with lead in it for once. Perhaps I will get to celebrate the whisked nymph. That is a nymph that gets whisked away without getting down enough. It’s been a long time since I got to have that problem. On the few occasions I have ventured onto a river, I have had to scan through my armoury looking for un-weighted patterns. In fact I plain gave up on nymphs, because I was tiring of losing them on the slimy rocks a few inches under the surface.
Now, while not denying that we remain in a drought, I have the old familiar pleasure of having to phone around to find clean water. I don’t think I will ever complain again. I also think I will stock more un-weighted patterns, because on some level I think I jinxed this whole thing by being so blasé as not to stock enough. If they go hunting for the guy who caused el nino, I might go into hiding for a few days.
A playlist you say. er…I’ve never done this before but okay let’s give it a bash. Some old favourites:
Right now the skies look pregnant with rain, and the humidity hangs in the air. Perhaps I will get soaked. Caught up some valley with no caves. Drenched to the skin in cooling air, and get a chill and shiver until my teeth rattle and I can’t change fly.
I hope so.
(It rained before I could post this. All our local streams are chocolate brown and going like steam trains. I stopped beside a stream yesterday and listened to its own music. No amount of lead would have made fishing a prospect. What sweet music to these ears!)
Each of us builds a set of reference points in our flyfishing journey. We all have a history of where we went and what we caught, and what happened along the way, and with whom. It is a tapestry, in which our history matches that of a fellow flyfisher for only as long as it takes for our threads to cross. We spend a day together here, and then, and for an instant we saw the same frames in that movie in our minds that is the flyfishing aesthetic. For the rest of it, it is a personal and unique journey. We can wonder if anyone sees it quite like we do. It is a bit like contemplating a colour like Blue for example. We think we know what blue is, but how do we know that everyone else isn’t seeing it as what we call red!
So it is with our own personal histories of places visited, fish missed, and stuff along the way that make a place or time memorable. This is not about me, or anyone else having been further, fished more, or having pictures more clever than you. It is not a quiz. It is to say: “hey…you’ve been there too! Cool, we have something in common”. Have our flyfishing threads perhaps crossed unknowingly in this tapestry?
Let me know if they have:
Perhaps you have a tapestry of images in which I will recognise none of the places. This is the stuff that keeps fishermen seeking out new places, new friends, and new experiences.
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.
That got their attention!
This article is not about ten ways to catch more trout. It is an article about how numbers get our attention.
Us flyfishermen are chilled. We are cool. We have been fishing for years. We don’t care how many we catch anymore. We are above that. Competition is so yesterday. We are far more noble than that. “So how big did you say that fish was….45cms?” and “let me see, what is that in inches”. “By the way what was the water temp?” ……….So you see, numbers DO matter. I knew it!
No matter how blasé we are, or how loosely we wear our buff, or how full the hip flask is, we measure things, and we record things. And we are just a little bit obsessed with it too. “How many kms did you guys go up the river?”. “Was it a cock fish or a hen fish?”; “So what size was that Caddis pattern, an 18?”
Do you see what I mean? We measure everything! I guess it is part of what I have heard called “The human condition”. You cannot escape it. How many days was the fishing trip? How many hours did it take to drive there?. How long is that fly rod? People want to know. It is important. Apparently. It must be. My most viewed blog post is one entitled “8 things to consider about sun gloves”. How random is that! I wonder if this one, with the number ten in it, will get 20% more views…..there I go again…measuring.
So, if we accept that we can’t escape measuring and recording, and that we are predisposed to it, to some degree at least, we had might as well decide on a few things to measure to satisfy that apparent craving. Then we can ditch the rest. So what will it be? What is important for a flyfisherman to measure?
Someone recently suggested that my top statistic is Kms walked per trout caught, and that a low number won’t do. I had to think about that. In some perverse way, I think they may be right. Its never good enough to park the car, jump out and catch a fish within sight of the sign or the road or the car. That is just not cricket. You must work for your fish!. Well, I don’t know about you but I must anyway.
Then there are inches and pounds. I have absolutely no idea how big a 45cm fish is, or a 1 Kg fish. Nada. Nothing. Blank. No idea. Sugar in kilograms. Irrigation pipes in centrimetres. Fish in pounds and inches. That is just how it is for me. If you tell me you got a “74” I will assume it to be a species of sea fish. If it is a “56”, I can only assume it is a close relative. I have no idea whether it would fit in your hand, your fridge, or your house.
I can picture a river Brown, and if it is over twelve inches, that means something to me, and it is important.
There you go. I said it. My buff just tightened around my neck. Not cool, but true. I need to know how big the fish was.
Then comes temperature. This is absolutely critical, for no reason whatsoever.
As a kid I read Joe Humphries on “fishing by degrees” in his book “Trout Tactics”. Temperature was clearly critical. I can’t remember why, (beyond the obvious one of a cool side-stream or spring in summer) but the chapter must have made an impression, because since 1981 every fishing day’s water temperature is measured and recorded. Air temperature too.
And fly size; plus weight of outfit used; leader X; sex of fish; kept or returned; Rainbow or Brown; hours fished; wind speed and direction; cloud cover; time fish caught; species hatching; flies used.
OK, I admit it: I am a goner. A head-case. I can’t help myself. I am chilled. I am cool. I am not competitive, I assure you. That buff is loose around my neck. But I must measure. It is an affliction!
I think you have it too. (even if you won’t admit to it)
It started with mosquitos the night before. They had bugged me half the night, buzzing around my ears frequently but at irregular intervals. I could hear them, and I guessed at their location for the purpose of aiming my ineffectively flailing open hand.
The ants required the same open hand, but thankfully the blows were one hundred percent effective, crushing the little buggers milliseconds after they delivered a painful bite to the back of my neck. I had picked them up at a fence crossing. They must have been crawling on my back. There was this pole you see. A sort of “H” frame that kept the fence tension. It was that taught wire that was the problem. I stood on it, while I was astride the pole, and the thing I have feared for several decades might happen, happened. That is why I stayed on top of the pole long enough for the ants to climb on board. Long enough to start breathing again. Just last week I pointed out a fencing staple and a notch in the pole that could have injured PD in this way, and now it befell me.
Anton disappeared around the bend chortling. Chortling repeatedly. After he had left, I could still hear him chortling. In fairness he had showed some concern for my health at the time that the wire snapped, but now, having fed me smoked sprats and whisky for breakfast he was chortling.
Despite the ants, and despite the mosquitoes, the day had promise. I found fish rising, and I even had one on briefly, but it threw the hook. Letting the pool settle after the splashes, I went and found Anton and beckoned for him to come and catch one.
He did catch browns too. So did I. Lovely buttery little fellows.
They were willing, even if they were a little incompetent at hooking themselves at times.
By evening they were throwing themselves after caddis, but during the day they were doing more strange things like gently sipping hoppers. Go figure!
That’s browns for you.
On this same river the browns have “shown me a toffee” more times than I care to remember. That was an expression Kev used a lot. And since we and our varsity buddies had fished this stretch, back in the eighties, I had been shown a toffee here more often than is reasonable to expect. Back then though, this was glory water. Us youngsters had succeeded in getting the fishing club thrown out of here. We fished it too often, and the farmer grew tired of all the foot traffic. I can’t blame him. We were pests. You would have been too with fishing that good. A tired pest that is. Maybe Anton will become a pest. He was back there the next day, hungry for more brown trout action. I would have gone too, but there is this career thing that I have.
Back then none of us had such encumbrances. We were footloose and fancy free. Car free too, but Kev had a VW Golf. That was one smart car! We went fishing in it, and we came back late at night. In the blackness and tiredness the dashboard lighting glowed bright orange. The tape player was similarly illuminated , and it spewed forth excellent rock music that I often hadn’t heard before, but which sounded so good on that stereo. The beer was cold and the euphoria of a great day on the water, together with the loud clear music carried us home in a mild buzz. Anton’s dashboard glows the same orange, and his stereo played “Marillion” at a healthy volume. Great stuff. Cold beer too. And a euphoric buzz to boot. We had a great day on the river.
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!
“..the river moves on and on ; the heart follows, willingly, always glad to be Hunter, discoverer.” Harry Middleton
We describe rivers as living beings. The concept resonates and it allows for the attachment of a personality to a thread of water in Trout country. That seems appropriate. Yet rivers, if they are to be living things, are an anomaly, because they never die. Sure, in the lowlands, some factory may dump waste and the river “dies”. But even there, look at the Thames and its tributaries now compared to how they were in the industrial revolution! When man has burned out and imploded in millennia to come, I suspect the Thames will still be there, and I suspect it will have a healthy run of salmon.
A berg stream, will in all likelihood have a an easier go of things. Up there in a steep sided kloof there is a more evident timelessness. A recent rock fall: a fresh slab of white sandstone, skidded to a halt half way down the mountain, is still fresh thirty years on. The word “recent” takes on a new timeline. We can go back up there and throw a fly as we did half a generation ago, and it is still as it was.
In a pretty run of water a small trout will be finning, as it was back then. Its presence and purpose there as meaningless and beautiful as a dazzling brushstroke on a canvas. As one can stand in an art gallery and contemplate a work of art, in order to discover its meaning, so too, one must hike into the mountains and watch that finning Brown. In so doing you will give it meaning, but you will not be able to describe it, and every man will find his own meaning. You have to go there for yourself. Years on, you will need to go back there again to place another dot on the map of life. Two points on the page set the trajectory. They point you to where you are going.
…..thirty two years later:
My photographic equipment improved in the intervening years. I aged (a bit!). My fishing improved.The farm got expropriated. The government changed. The tree grew.
And the river stayed the same.
A celebration of our upland Trout streams on video://player.vimeo.com/video/117028709
View on Youtube:
I often find that a thermometer is a poor measure of temperature, in terms of our experience of the fishing day.
Leaving aside the wind chill factor, which we all know well, a thermometer reading tells very little about what it feels like to be out.
Just the other morning, it was 13 degrees when I got up. On a winter’s morning, that is a very high overnight temperature, and one that on the face of it, should have the global warming guys saying “You see!”.
But strangely it didn’t feel that warm at all. The thing is, that as the day developed, the light remained dull from some high cloud, and although we had no wind to speak of, a southerly front oozed over, and the daytime temperature never went over 16 degrees. It was a cool day.
Likewise a 29 degree day in May and one of 29 degrees in January are two entirely different things. I suppose in that example you could put it down to a difference in humidity and you would be right.
The guys at Accuweather have this “reelfeel” thing, which is quite useful. It’s accuracy is, and always will be, debatable, but the fact that they felt a need to come up with such a concept, means that I am not the only one who sees the limitation of the mercury. But I don’t believe that the guys have it waxed yet. For example, I have a thermometer out front of my house and one out back, that give different readings. The difference between the two will vary considerably on two consecutive days when the reelfeel temperature is the same. I can’t get my head around such an abstruse outcome, except to say that our experience of the weather is complex.
Us fishermen are quite obsessive about our weather readings, and we add to that the water temperature, clarity, flow, and other factors, in an attempt to solve our Trout riddles. However, as I look through my fishing log, the temperatures, cloud cover, wind details and the like are never enough, and there is always a sentence in my notes that adds a descriptor. That sentence often deals with the degree to which it was miserable , or dull, or bright. One of the key things in there is a description about the light.
If one thinks about it, a day varies from those clear crisp type of days after rain, to the hazy ones. And the clear bright days after snow in winter, seem that much more pellucid and bright than the ones in summer when we have had rain.
And if I had to make a great big generalisation, I would have to say that a cool bright day is one that gets the fish going. Remember that this might be a sunny or an overcast day, but there will be a clarity to the light. The opposite of that would have to be a brassy day.
I often survey a landscape and declare it brassy with an air of disgust, since I believe it doesn’t auger well for the fishing. PD and I have a common understanding of what constitutes a brassy day, and we label them as such with an irritated clucking. Its somewhat of a code that we have, and the others don’t get it. You could probably measure all this scientifically, but to do so would cut into time fishing or in the pub.
My wife asked me to define this brassy classification the other day. There was a veld fire nearby, and the sunlight had turned yellow. She asked if this qualified as a brassy day, and without hesitation I said no. The coppery light was localised because the fire was nearby. Then she started to ask about days when there are fires everywhere and it is coppery all over. That would just be a collection of localised fires. Would that make it a brassy day? I don’t remember what my answer was. I do know that within 15 minutes I had contradicted myself, and she had caught me out! But PD and I still know if it’s a brassy day, without really being able to define why. We continue to use it consistently as an excuse as to why we didn’t catch any fish. It’s particularly handy since no one can dispute it.
Other anglers have similar things going. I remember my friend Kevin, who despite owning a thermometer would dip his finger into the water with an air of unassailable authority, and declare it cold enough to fish a Mickey Finn. I will often pack up when a still evening is ruined by a cold Easterly wind, but apparently that should not put me off if the clouds are hanging on the hilltops.Guy used to stay out in the most miserable of weather blown in by a cold front from the South, provided there was a nasty drizzle , and return with an enormous thirst and tales of big fish allegedly landed. Sometimes these syllogisms are obscure and relate to things like a favourite hat left at home on a cloudy day.
The best one that comes to mind is the one relayed by Jim Read: Eddie Combes use to ask the late Hugh Huntley if he had shaved that morning , and if indeed he had, Eddie reckoned you had no chance at all of catching a Trout!