Here in the KZN midlands, altitude is accepted as a defining criteria for Trout water. It has long been held that trout will survive above 1200meters above sea level, and there is very little fishable water above 1800metres. So within that band of 1800m down to 1200m, there are a few critical bands, and I would argue that one of them is the 1600m band. I say that because every listed trout stream in these parts rises above 1600m.
So here is where that contour runs along the front of the Drakensberg:
Interesting isn’t it!
For me what makes it fascinating is that:
- It shows deeply incised valleys where streams cross the line remarkably close to the escarpment
- It shows that ridge of high ground that runs out into the province from the end of Giants Castle to Inhlosane mountain, very clearly
- And from the few spot heights I threw in on the map above, you will see that there are many islands of ground above 1600m, many of which are a long way “from the mountains”.
One also quickly concludes that the altitude alone is a poor measure of where trout thrive. In studying a map in detail, you come to realise that trout will survive and indeed thrive in stretches of river at low altitudes where the valley sides rise to much higher altitudes, and cool short tributaries contribute to the river (Examples, The Inzinga and the Umgeni). Also, if the drainage upstream of where you are standing is overgrazed or densely inhabited, or intensely farmed, then altitude becomes a less significant measure ( Example, The Bushmans below 1400m …below the clinic). Also, if the stream is on a steeply drained area, where the cold fronts coming from the south west are forced up to generate orographic rainfall, the trout are better off. So, for example, south of Giants Castle, the 1600m contour averages about 130 kms from the sea. North of the Hidcote ridge, where the berg tracks north, north-west, the sea is an average of 175 kms from the sea, and over 200kms in many cases. Here it is drier, there are a lot fewer trout streams, and those that there are, have just a short run in the berg before they spill out onto flatter, warmer plains where they don’t hold Trout. In fact, down south (and off below the limits of the map above), we know that in the Ingeli mountain area, trout are found as close as 80km from the sea at altitudes of under 1000m. There the slope from the sea to Ngeli mountain is 25m per km. From a similar altitude on the Mlambonja at Cathedral Peak, to the sea, the slope is under 8m per km. Those southern areas get more life-giving mist and drizzle. Did you ever notice how there are no thorn trees along the N3 from Maritzburg to Hidcote, then on the Estcourt side of Hidcote (the dry side), you can draw a line where the thorns start. Thorns like drier , and/or warmer climates.
Returning to our 1600m contour: At a glance, it is encouraging to see how much land above this contour is in the Drakensberg park, and therefore conserved as catchment area. The exception is where the land juts out from Giants Castle. Parts of that area (top end of Dargle, Inzinga, Fort Nottingham, Western side of Kamberg etc) have at times been threatened by proposed developments. (I hope you will join me at the protests if they try again).
See you in the highlands……above 1600 metres perhaps….
I don’t exactly make a habit of picking up rocks and bones and bringing them home. I have heard of a guy who makes a habit of carrying rocks in his backpack (big heavy ones) and placing them back on mountain tops, as his way of countering erosion everywhere. That sounds like even harder work than bringing them down off the mountain to put on one’s fly tying desk. I have done that very seldom. Three times in fact (if memory serves). These three idiosyncratic items serve to centre me in an obscure metaphorical way. There are three of them you see, and they come from locations far from one another, and that fact lends them perfectly to triangulation. Thinking about it now though, they all come from higher altitudes, so I do wonder if that triangulation thing would work….me being down here and their collection points being “up there”. Maybe it would prove uplifting. In a lucid moment I will of course deny ever having written this weird stuff. Here they are:
Clockwise from the top centre item: Top of Inhlosane Mountain: KZN Midlands; The dipping tank: Bokong River, Lesotho; The Lammergeier ossuary above Gateshead cottage: NE Cape.
No 100 has some significance. It shows a cleared section of the Umgeni, which is very close to my heart. It shows Inhlozane mountain, which I grew up within sight of, and it was taken on a day when we caught browns in numbers markedly higher than before the place was cleared. That’s Rogan in the the river…all-round great guy and son of my late river clearing and flyfishing pal Roy. Call me sentimental!
A good portion of my personal fishing history, has developed upon a patch of landscape from which the Inhlosane mountain is in view. Often the mountain is barely in sight, when some fishing tale unfolds. It might be in the background at some obscure and seldom seen angle, or it might just be peeping over the horizon, its furrowed brow of wrinkled cliffs crowning the ridge, like some concerned Grandpa looking in. Like an elderly father figure, concerned for the way things might turn out. Its dome giving away its ever watchful presence from afar.
The Inhlosane must have looked on that day that PD and guy were out on JJ’s dam at Zuivergout.
They were huddled in heavy jackets in the gathering gloom. Huddled in HMS bottletop, that was smaller than the both of them. HMS bottletop with its two micron, transparent fibreglass bottom, that separated them from the icy winter water. And Guy was taking aim at a bass they had caught , and was letting rip with his oversize wooden kudgel. The wooden kudgel with a lead ingot buried in the business end. And above the barrage of ant bass swearing, there was an earnest and nervous plea from PD to please stop, as guy missed, again and again, smashing the delicate boat bottom, out there in that cold water, a long way from shore.
The Inhlosane probably has eyes in the back of its head too. I am sure of it. It watches us on cold winter mornings, as we trundle up the side of the field to Mbovana.
Up along the edge of the field of cut grass, its sandy spread of colour punctuated by scattered guinea fowl, and the stillness of morning split by the raucous clatter of a franklin from somewhere between the hay bales . South African river chickens, I call them. Calling boldly , but running scared with wings and feet competing for their speedy retreat. The sun pierces the eastern skyline beneath the london planes, and the Inhlosane holds watch.
Then there was that furious run over to Boston to find fish boxes floating in the reeds, to strip the hens and cocks, and race back with PD in the passenger seat, an ice-cream tub of precious trout eggs cradled on his lap. We had to forego the comfort of the cab heater in favour of a good trout egg temperature. PD did a fine job of cushioning bone rattling dirt roads as we circled the mountain from below, on a day dominated by driving, that cut into fishing time. Fishing time lost to so few eggs. The hens were few and far between, and the instructions had gotten mixed up….all the good ones were released right beside our box. We cussed and drove and cussed. But we loved it. Circling our mountain in cold dusty air in the pale failing winter light. It was a harsh day of leanness. Real winter. Too short a season for those fond of good jackets, hip flasks and cold trout water.
In recent days we have sweated and toiled and scratched ourselves on wretched wattle trees. Cutting, dragging, hacking and stacking. Efforts to please the watching mountain. To rid its love-child, the river, of the scourge of spreading trees that don’t belong. With our shins brushing bramble patches, our eyes squinting against flying wood chips, our clothes ragged and dirty, and our hearts filled with well-meaning aggression. The mountain looks on. Motionless. Unmoved.
But surely pleased. Please tell me he is pleased.
Family members have proposed marriage atop the old fellow, and spread ashes on his slopes. We have hiked up the back end, and dare I admit it, rolled rocks down his sides.
We have owned properties within line of sight of those eyes beneath the heavy brow. Caught some good trout too. Big ones, from some private syndicates, and from little known farm dams. Inhlosane has watched too as we have celebrated little Browns from the Umgeni.
As he has watched our family, so we have watched him too. I cast my eyes westward every day on the way to work. A quick check, as one might expect to check a wristwatch. Just a “Look see”, to establish if he is spending the day in cloud, or sun, or snow, or storm. A quick run over, like a brail reading, or a memory imprinting. A flash of vision that captures and imprints yet another image of his shape, and height, and colour and mood.
From Nottingham Road, or Greytown, or Fort Nottingham, or Kamberg, and many places more, Inhlosane is a beacon. A beacon to establish direction. Sometimes barely visible, and maybe to some, barely recognisable, but so often there, peeping over some ridge or hill. Beady eyed it seems. Watching a landscape of toil and heat and cold, and dry and flood.