“Sorry, I didn’t feed the butterflies………” she mumbled from the confused thickness of sleep. She followed it with “Where have you been?” as I crawled into the sleeping bag beside her.
“Fishing” I said.
“You liar!” she responded, just a little less sleepily. Minutes later her rhythmic breathing told me she had drifted off again. I soon would too.
The night had been cold, but mild at the same time. Cold in the way that cold air settles on a lake’s surface in the middle of the night. Mild, in that the breeze was soft and stopped altogether at times, leaving the hum of silence in my ears, and just the gentle sound of lapping waves as they ran out and dissipated across the inky water before me. From above was a halo of light delivered by a half moon, somewhere above the swirling mist and low cloud. Tiny drizzle drops hit the surface of my down jacket with imperceptible pinpricks of sound. They lacked the weight that would have dimpled the water surface.
I judged the progress of my figure eight retrieve by the thickness of the line in my left hand. As it got thicker, I was near the weight forward part of the line, and the lift would need to be executed soon. But not too soon. A failed lift of the line would see the fly hit the side of the canoe, and bring the leader in against the rod tip, risking another tangle. I wanted to avoid those. An earlier tangle had been a challenge to unravel with just the light of my cellphone down in the hull of the canoe.
I lifted, probably more briskly than I needed to, to make sure that the olive dragonfly nymph took flight. It did. The stiff rod carried it high and fast, and I flicked a single forward cast out into the satin blackness, with vigour to shoot line and to match the lift-off, but aimed high above the water, so that it would alight with more finesse. I figured these short casts would work fine. They left less retrieve time in which I could become confused as to where the fly was, and surely less line meant fewer tangles. Besides, without rod flash, and in the dark, I needn’t cast further.
The short cast was a success. A minor triumph. An accomplishment that delivered its own enjoyment and satisfaction. No fish catching was required here: just getting the fly out by feel and intuition alone was doing it for me in this world of blindness. Throwing by feel. Throwing into black. Throwing for fish, which books assured me could see my diminutive offering.
I was in shallow water. Water where I had seen many fish feed during daylight hours, but where the closeness to the shore always seemed to make my approach seem too obvious. Now, with the cloak of darkness, I had a mental picture of big Browns coming in close and fearlessly in search of protein. Dragonfly protein perhaps.
Most people who can’t sleep, get up in the night for tea, or to read a book. Our cottage is small, and those solutions would have woken my wife. But the cottage sits right beside a Trout lake, and I really had been wide-eyed. It seemed like a good idea.
I raised the anchor, and held it up against the grey sky to see that it was clear of weed. It was. I placed it in the canvas bucket behind my seat, taking care to lower the steel onto the cushion of soft wet rope in silence. I lifted the paddle silently, and dug it in beside me to swing the craft around. Lowering my head to pick out the shape of things against the skyline, I judged the position of the jetty, and of the willow tree, and of the cottage where my wife lay sleeping. I picked a spot and paddled over there unhurriedly. A spot just off the tufts of cattails, where I had seen big fish swirl late on summer days. A spot just beyond the last fencepost, which I must now be careful to avoid. If I could see it. I couldn’t tell if I had arrived at the spot I pictured, but I placed the paddle down at my feet with great care, and judged the glide of the craft before lowering the anchor again. It found firm ground less than 4 foot below me, and I tied off the rope at a gunwale drain, before reaching for the rod.
Not wanting the risk another mess of tippet and leader, I pulled line out until I was certain I had ample flyline out of the end eye. Then I delivered an exaggerated roll, to get the fly straightened out, and listened for the plop of it entering the water column. Only then did I lift, and cast. I felt the tug of the weight of the line, and I released the energy and imagined the fly alighting near the cattail tufts nearby. It was surely there, I thought. But then I doubted. My nose dripped. My hands were losing their feeling. The breeze stiffened a little, and I shivered.
Was that weed on the fly? To raise the fly against the sky would mean pulling the leader join into the end eye, and that would involve risk in getting the fly clear again. Instead I mock cast and listened to the sound of the fly as it passed me. It sounded right.
This time I cast away from the shore, abandoning my dream of Browns close in, and choosing water that was deeper. Deeper and weed free perhaps.
A little rainbow grabbed the fly suddenly. I felt its raw pull. Its struggle. It jumped nearby, and I saw its silver side in the diffuse moonlight. I heard it land. I grinned to myself, as I experienced the urgent tugging. The fish came in beside the canoe, and suddenly I was glad I had cut off the dropper earlier. I didn’t like the odds of a thrashing fish in the dark with a loose hook hanging somewhere near it. I ran my hand down the tippet. As I got closer to the struggling fish, my hand created enough of an angle, and it slipped off the hook before I could touch it’s cold body. “That was landed, right?” I said to myself. I decided to notch it up. I roll cast the fly out, waited for the plop; Lifted again and cast again. Then I reached for the phone and pressed the side button to see the time. 2:05 am. A 13 inch Rainbow landed at 2:05 am. That’s what I would write in my fishing log. “You liar!” I said to myself, in the dark.
Being one who mulls a lot (someone once labeled me a DTN*), I have been dabbling with the concept of night fishing. Mental dabbling that is. And I am talking here of night fishing in rivers ….not stillwaters.
I have done a bit of night fishing on stillwaters.
But I confess, I have never truly night fished a stream.
My angling background is thick with images of people holding up fish in an inky blackness, or stories of Browns coming out in the dark, and of talk of fishing at night when it cools off. I remember the cover of Joe Humphries “Trout Tactics” with just such an image.
Then just this week, I saw these images of my friend Brett Coombes in Australia:
Somehow though, my buddies and I just haven’t joined the dots. I don’t know why. Maybe us South Africans associate night time with murder and evil. That would be silly…all that stuff happens here in broad daylight! Maybe we are just scared of the dark. Or maybe it is because we lack great big rivers with even gravel streambeds, which one can shuffle into without the benefit of sight. Our streams are small and tumbling, and back-casts could be difficult if performed by sound alone, not to mention finding footholds, or even getting down into the canyon in one piece.
For now, I am writing those off as weak excuses though. It’s time we did this thing. American media has been extolling the virtues of big streamers for monster browns at night for a long time, and somehow we have been ignoring it. We have long been reading about how big browns travel long distances at night on the hunt for food. We even have fly-tyers tying up big mouse imitations. I don’t know about you but stereotype images of a big mouse making a wake and being swallowed in the blackness of night, come quickly to mind. And maybe this thing is not as stereotyped as muslims with wires sticking out of their clothing and cheese in mousetraps, but for now I am going to treat it as the gospel truth until I have proved otherwise. Hell, I am a man of faith!
I put cheese in a mousetrap myself the other day. Graeme said I had been watching too many Tom & Jerry movies. Well this time I have been reading too many romatisized “Big Browns at night” stories, and I am going to put some cheese on that metaphoric mousetrap and go try the Mooi at the bewitching hour. PD says he just needs to check that his medical aid and his life insurance are up to date, and he is IN!
The upper Mooi….a perfect spot for a stroll on a moonless night, wouldn’t you say?
* DTN apparently stands for “Deep Thinking Nigger”. Some of my friends actually call me that. Like my comment on Muslims and wires, this is used parochially and descriptively here with no racial or religious bias whatsoever. I might however, not make such innocent utterances when I am fumbling about stubbing my toes and getting washed downstream on a piece of water like that above, on a moonless night.