September is typically characterised by such things as heat waves, snow, drought and gales, mixed with lovely blossoms, veld fires and greenery. This September was no different. If I scan the above list, I believe ‘snow’ was missing this year, but last year we had snow in the first week of October, so in a way nothing is atypical yet.
It might feel atypical, but that is just our oscillating take on things.
This year, the mix of the above has delivered us low clear water. Nothing unusual about that at all. In fact I think this state of affairs is exactly as it is meant to be. Reading my own descriptions of this time of year in my book “Stippled Beauties” brings that home to me.
I picked up a copy from the top of the small and shrinking pile in my dining room, and read for as long as it took for the kettle to boil. I stopped there, lest I stumble upon a spelling or grammatical error that would set off a cascade of self doubt. I have yet to read the whole book through since it was printed, for this same reason.
I chatted to a farmer in his driveway the other day through the open windows of our respective trucks, and he took on a refreshing view of things: “Since when has it not rained at all in summer? “ he said. “ It will come”. He knows that this landscape, its river, and its Trout won’t die. I suspect he doesn’t pick up when his bank manager calls, and I suspect he will live to be a hundred. “Chilled”, I believe my kids call it.
After he drove off, and I proceeded down to the river, his words washed over me, and I relaxed into a state of resigned acceptance of the low level of the Trout stream I was headed for. It was not a negative or defeatist type of resignation. Far from it. That morning as I looked into the pools it dawned on me that there was way more than enough water to cover the backs of the Trout.
The water temperature was also a perfect 14 degrees C (57` F). There were slithers of shade, the size of a two litre cool drink bottle and bigger. We had had nights with the air temperature well below 10 degrees (50`F). We had had grey days. And above all I have been spotting Trout in this, and other streams.
Note that I say “spotting”. Catching them, and in fact even getting a presentation over them without spooking them, has been a task with what an army corporal would call “n mooiliksheidgraad van drie” (a difficulty rating of 3). Anyone who went to the army, will know that this is a poetic understatement which amounts to a euphemism, for “downright impossible”.
Rogan and I approached a shallow pool on the Umgeni the other day, peering off downstream at what we thought was a rise, but may have just been a swirl of wind. Only when we put polaroids on and looked straight ahead of us did we see a fish in plain view, chasing a nymph across the pale bedrock. I spotted for Rogan and saw another smaller Brown at the head of the same run. We crouched, and stalked, and hung our flies in bankside vegetation, fluffing it completely.
In the next kilometre or so, we didn’t spot a fish. They were there. I know that with the same certainty one attaches to death and taxes. We just couldn’t spot them. The next fish we did spot were rising in a pool where swallows swooped and dipped to pick up what the rising trout missed. I got in three good casts before I duffed the strike on a fish that took my Para-RAB. And that was it. For the day. That was the sum total of our Trout interactions.
The following day another angler spent a few hours on the same beat before remarking “I’m hitting the pub!” I can’t say I blame him. The ‘mooiliksheidgraad’ was ‘drie’! It’s a typical September, with low rivers and the ‘mooilikheidsgraad’ is supposed to be ‘drie’.
Resign yourself to it. Waste hours peering into pools. Stay away from the pub. Don’t go looking for the grammatical errors. Rather learn by staring at shadows the size of cooldrink bottles, and not breaking your ankle in search of more willing fish elsewhere.
You will live to be a hundred.
PS: Apologies to Rex, Savs, my army corporal, and with empathy to that bank manager. And good luck with today’s surgery…you know who you are…
PPS: And apologies to those who can’t bear the thought of enduring another 50 years of me. It was Leonard Cohen who said with a chuckle to his London audience “Sorry for not dying”.
PPPS: Sorry to oscillate, but as I finished this, my mate Neil sent me a picture of a Brown he got on another river, much further away. A good fish! The river looks like it has more water in it than my home water. I think I am going to don my ankle guards and head out there tomorrow!
In the summer months, I often have occasion to fish some tiny streams. I really enjoy those waters. Delicate strands of water, in which any trout that you do succeed in catching, is a miracle of nature.
Delicate strands of water
Sure, the words “miracle of nature” are over-used, cliched, and bordering on corny, but consider this:
We have just come through a spring drought, both in KZN, and the NE Cape. You just have to drive through the Kamberg valley, as I did yesterday, to see that despite all the green grass, the dams are still not full. That would have a little less to do with how much rain we have had in the last few weeks, and a lot more to do with what happened from August to November. We are prone to dry spring seasons here, and this year was one of them. To top that, it came after a winter in which we did not receive our customary inch of rain (together with snow on the berg) in July.
So if we can still see that in the level of the dams, especially the ones from which the farmers irrigated, then try to picture the little stream you fished this week, two months ago. With that mental image, try to picture a trout living in there.
I remember one unseasonably dry December, Petro and I hiked up a small side-stream on the Bokspruit that Ben Vosloo had directed us to. Ben’s instructions had been clear, so there was no doubt that we were on the correct stream, but I stared at the trickle in disbelief.
My disbelief deepened, when a hundred yards further we saw trout. We could not have missed them. The poor creatures were lying in solid rock basins worn by the river over many centuries of better flow. When I say “basins”, picture the basin you shave over. They were almost as small, and they didn’t have as much cover . Your basin has the arm of the tap over it, these had no such luxury. When the fish spotted us, all they could do to save themselves, was to zoom around that pool at the greatest speed they could manage. Consider for a moment, that their only food was delivered to them down a tiny trickle of water flowing over warm rock, from the basin above, where a few other trout had picked off whatever was in that water. Maybe a gust of wind might bring them a hopper. And they survived until the next rain. A miracle of nature indeed!
I for one, often under-estimate the ability of trout to survive in these extreme conditions. Such conditions are almost a certainty in a small stream, where there are no, or few, great big pools, where a trout can hunker down in a drought.
One year Basie Vosloo took a few of us up a small feeder stream on his farm. We were looking for trout, just to know if they were there. Basie stopped the F250 in the valley basin, where the nchi-chi grew thickly, there was plenty of cover, and a half reasonable volume of water.
We surveyed the stream, and while we saw nothing, we pronounced it OK for trout. Then Basie drove further, and stopped again. Together with the dogs, we picked our way to the stream, and looked again.
It was getting pretty thin right there, but Basie insisted we go further. I said nothing, but inside I was thinking that this was just a little ridiculous. Almost as if to make a point, Basie drove us twice the distance we had come. We stopped at a stream crossing, were the water trickled through a pipe, and oozed over a rock embankment. Impossible. Ridiculous. But following the enthusiastic dogs, we walked a few yards down. I hung back and let the others go ahead. I was not going to waste my time.
And then “Yup! Here’s a rainbow” came the call.
I had to see this with my own eyes. Sure enough, there it was: A miracle of nature.
What this all comes down to though, is that when fishing one of these little gems, one has to be realistic, and patient. Consider for a moment how that stream may have looked in the dead of winter. Unlike the stocked dam, the presence of trout cannot be assumed. In that context the scarcity of the trout becomes expected, and those that you do catch become wonders.
The days that you can’t find them become exercises in patience and humility. The fish that you do find, should be cause for celebration. Rest assured, that celebration at the 8 inch brown you just caught from a full rushing stream in summer, will not be understood by some of those to whom you tell of its capture.
“It was how big?” . You show them the photo.
“Lovely” they say, with just the slightest hint of condescension in their tone. You flip to the next photo to show them some more in the hopes that they will get it. You have a picture of just how small the stream was . You can put this all in perspective for them. You flip back to show them the other pictures from the drought months to bring your point home.
But they are pouring tea, and discussing the new hardware store that just opened in town.
Additional photos sent in by Tom Sutcliffe, of the feeder stream on Basie Vosloo’s farm, and some fry and paired trout in that delicate water. Thank you Tom.