It was the fifth of April. PD and I were in the highest of the high country in the North Eastern Cape. Mecca for short.
The sky was a very pale blue, brushed at times with a high and hazy grey white. The weak and filtered sun crept through that haze, and kissed the hills, between interludes of cool breeze, and brighter sunshine. One could just feel the sun’s warmth through a thick denim shirt, and at times it wasn’t enough and one felt the need for an extra layer. The North facing hillsides there are covered in a dense cloak of grass, that waves slightly yellow in April. The Southern facing nooks and crannies are dappled in spiky tufts, as are the immediate river banks. The rocks are the pepper of the veld: strewn everywhere, rough, weathered and interesting, glistening here and there with Quartz and Pitch black and shiny in the stream.
We were not sure of the exact location of the lower boundary. But today was special, and it deserved all our effort in fishing every inch of river that the shortening days would allow us to fit between where we were and sunset. We are both working men, and days on a heavenly stream in the perfection of the April weather are to be treasured and optimised to the full. So we set out for “down there” with conviction and determination, striding ahead over rocky outcrops and ridges, our path curving slightly left and right as we discovered the course of the stream. At some point we arrived at a spot at which the stream was clearly taking a plunge down into a gorge. It is at a junction such as this, that one realises that the passage of the current is about to take you into a venture which calls for a sleeping bag and a tent. You stand atop a rock craning your neck to see if there is a pool down there which you should head for, but a realisation sweeps over you, that you will be going no further on your day-trip. You must start your fishing now, lest you hike so far down that you wont be able to fish back up to the vehicle, without skipping much of the good water on the way back.
PD and I had reached such a spot, but our decision to start in and fish was not such a disappointment or limitation, since we were blessed with an absolute gem of a pool at that point in the river.In fact the pool was a beast. It’s size was such that it was too big for this stream. It was a freak of a thing. It was maybe twenty metres long, with water plunging in at the head in a flurry of white water, and below that it swept probably two metres or more deep, with enough room in there for a leviathon of your dreams. From where we were, the pool lay below us to the South West. We decided to crawl over to the crest of the small krantz overlooking the pool and take a peak in there. As our heads popped over the rim and our eyes adjusted to the deep green water below us, we both gasped.
Below us, suspended in the translucence, were a couple of Rainbows of Alaskan proportions! If we swore, it was not a curse but an expression of religiously significant awe.
We watched for a while. We counted them. We marveled at them. We tried to guess their size, and the depth at which they were finning away. Were they feeding? It was hard to say, but it looked promising, they were not static, but moved slightly back and forth, side to side. It all looked so enticing, but the enormity of the act of peeling off the first coils of line to actually start casting for them, was daunting. We couldn’t lie there in the grass and rocks all day just watching them, so PD insisted that I go after them. I wasn’t too sure that my skills were up to the challenge and I tried to cop out with the usual “no… you start”. As we all know this is a sort of ritual of humility and manners, and PD’s offer for me to take them stood, as is normally the case.
It was decided that he would remain in place as a spotter for me. This is always a good tactic for fish like these. So I crept back from the edge, and went a long way down and around, disappearing from sight of the pool for a good long time. When I came back around to the river, I was in fact well below where I needed to be. This is better than finding you have walked right upon the fish you planned to stalk. I decided that PD would understand me taking my time, so I peeled off line and fished the fast run below the pool first. I needed to get the kinks out of my line. Get my rhythm, and gauge the sink rate of the fly I had chosen.
This duly done, and with some trembling, I positioned myself at the tail of the pool, and fearfully put out the first cast.
The line landed. PD confirmed that the fish had not spooked. He gauged the three dimensional model of my drift, and commented that maybe I needed to cast higher up to allow the fly to get down to the fish. I banked that info for the second cast, and waited patiently for the line to wash to me, to avoid a splashy lift-off above the fish.
The second cast went out, with my heart still in my throat. Mid way down the drift my heart stopped altogether as something took. But it was a small fish that had darted out from nowhere and grabbed the nymph. I pulled it hard to one side and horsed it in, well away from the big fish. PD was experiencing some riffle on the water, and he struggled to see what had happened. To my relief he soon reported that the big ones were undisturbed! It was almost too good to be true: I would have a third shot at it.
PD craned over the edge, desperate to remain low, but trying to get an angle that helped his eyes cut through a bit of glare that was developing. As I set about the third delivery, PD suddenly blurted, in a tone way more bold and loud than our whispers until now: “Bugger. Sorry!”. For in instant I was puzzled, but very soon the mug sized rock bounding down the slope came into view, and the enormous splash as it smacked the surface in the middle of the pool, sent both of us off in peels of laugher and volleys of curses.
The humility and forgiveness of great friendships is invaluable on a Trout stream!
Once every two years we go back to the North Eastern Cape.
It’s not often enough, I know, but we figured, when we started this thing all those years ago, that we could sell every second year to wives and family. In fact we were confident that we could ensure the event would take place if we did it seldom enough. And we were right I suppose, because we have indeed been back every second year like clockwork.