Waters & words : a celebration of flyfishing

Posts tagged “poor weather

Consistency part 2: The veritable machine

A number of weeks back, I was out on the stream with a good mate of mine. It was a warm, cloudy day, in which the light was silvery, but more significantly a fairly fierce wind buffeted us and ruffled the surface. We fished up a section of riffle water interspersed with bigger pools.  Often on this piece we will say “the fish are in the pools today”, or conversely “They are all in the pockets”, or perhaps “they are holding deep…get down”.  On this particular day the results were inconclusive.  We got a few fish from both, but we were hardly tripping over them. It was fun, but it wasn’t a red-letter day. The wind was pretty exhausting! 

We reached a point where the road runs close to the stream, and my partner mentioned that he was tired. I anticipated that we would make use of this take-out point and call it a day.  I wanted a few more throws in a good pool so I fished it very thoroughly, thinking it would be my last fishing spot for the day.  I tried a dry, then a light nymph, and then I worked a deeper pattern, cancelling out options…running through the usual methodical process of elimination. My fishing partner (the one who had said he was tired) , went ahead and fished the only nearby water available, seemingly to kill time until I was done.  The water he was on was less than ideal. It was very fast: all bubbles and whiteness. And remember the wind was blowing hard. In fact it had picked up and it would have been fair to use the word ‘howling’.

He knuckled down; dried his fly; got into position, and with the focus of a hungry heron, set about placing his caddis on dinner plate-sized patches of smooth water.  He said his hit rate was low, but he kept at it.

When I caught up with him he was excited. “five casts, five fish” he enthused. “Just throw you fly in any patch that isn’t white, and I promise, you will get a fish first cast” he said.

And I did.

My point in relating this, is not to expound the merits of fast water, or wind. My point is that Mr Tired stayed focused and fished as thoroughly as he had the first pool of the day. In other words he was consistent in his focus, positivity and curiosity. He was able to say to himself “I wonder what will happen if I throw a fly in there”, even though we were at the end of the day. (actually that turned out not to be the end of the day…we carried on and Mr Tired suddenly wasn’t so tired…and he made a pig of himself!)

Another friend of mine is consistent in his dedication to looking for bugs and clues. He is the guy who will take fifteen minutes to survey a pool and consider his approach at the end of a long blank day. He will look into the shallows around his feet to see what insect life there is, he will try to catch one, and he will change fly, or re-tie his knot, or go down a tippet diameter, or try the fly deeper in the water column. This is at the end of the day. Most of us can already taste the beer, and it shows in how we fish the last pool. I confess…I am the one who strolls up to the last piece of water, plops the fly in somewhat resignedly, and goes through the motions. This is certainly true on a slow day, and even more so on a blank day.

If I applied this defeated apathy and lack of care at the first pool, I would probably never have a red-letter day. I know that the fresh first-pool-approach is more likely to produce fish. I know that it would be great to not have a blank day, and get it together at the last run or pool. But do I fish the last pool with the same dedication as the first one of the day?  No. I am inconsistent.

Will you fish a tiny fly on a still piece of water when fish are rising?  Yes. I am sure you would.  Will you fish a #18 nymph in the same water when there are whitecaps?  

Why not? Why do you need a big Woolly Bugger in a big wind?  Do you think bugs get bigger under a ruffled surface? Do you think fish stop eating flies of that size when a hatch stops or a wind picks up?  Like me, you are being inconsistent. Illogical.

Let’s look at inconsistency in another way.  If you were with a band of like-minded fly fishers, on a famous stream, with a high population of fish and bugs where the fishing was currently good, I wouldn’t mind betting that you would focus on what the fish are, or might be eating. We would probably discuss fly choice, look for bugs, compare tippet diameters and discuss changing conditions and possible adjustments to our approach.

What about if you and I go visit a little-fished, supposedly second-rate stream on a partially exploratory basis. No fish seen. Little threads of doubt already sewn. “B team” thoughts…..

Would you and I look for bugs, change tippet formula, re-tie knots, and team up to refine our skills to a fine point, pursuant of a glorious end-game?  No?

Why the difference?

We know which attitude and approach produces more fish.

I tire easily. I lose confidence. I listen to the tiny nay-sayers in my head. I get lazy.  

The bad weather, the poor returns over the last few weeks, the fact that this water is not as popular as another….all these things are my downfall. How about you?

The guys who raise eyebrows with their fishing success, will fish a puddle like it is a stretch of the Test near Stockbridge. They will focus on the finesse of what they are doing in driving rain, or tree buckling wind, on supposedly second-rate waters and when they have only ten minutes left.

They are veritable machines!

They are consistent.


Wild Weather

Last night the wind billowed the bedroom curtains, and things dropped off windowsills in the middle of the night. It had been a hot day, and towards sunset, the wind direction swung wildly, and lightning lit up the darkening sky. There was a distant roll of thunder, and we unplugged appliances. Then the wind slowed, we plugged them in again, and then it came at us wildly from a different direction. There was no rain in the end, but I was not troubled. A big front would be in within 24 hours and the weather forecast predicted a 15 degree temperature drop within two hours and rain for no less than 3 days.

As I sit here, the front has blown in, just as they predicted. The windows are open, and gusts of fresh cool air are wafting in and I get a sense that the bricks are cooling like the sizzling rocks of a campfire doused. It has cooled enough to make a hot cup of tea, and I can breathe again, as the sticky heat of the day is relieved. High clouds billow above and the trees are bucking and making pleasing whooshing sounds.  All this brings to mind days of wild weather on the water.

Flyfishing, like any other outdoor pursuit, puts you in  more immediate contact with the weather. There have been work days when I sat in an office with a furrowed brow, eyes straining at a computer screen, and a telephone at my ear, from which I emerged unable to report what the weather had done. On a river or lake, the weather is literally ‘in your face’. It defines the day. Most fishing days are defined by the weather, and the more extreme the weather, the more easily the memory of the day sticks.

Wild weather makes for the stuff of nostalgic memories. Invariably, suffering the discomforts of adverse weather make a day stick in your mind all the more.

There was the day I spent with Roy, far up the Mooi River, and miles from any sort of shelter, where many hours of rumbling thunder eventually and inevitably converted into a wild thunderstorm, which we sat-out in the open veld, with our graphite fly rods a safe distance away in the grass.

Mooi River

I remember a day on Cariad Vach in November where the temperature didn’t reach double digits and the mist was so thick that you couldn’t see your fly land when you put out a half decent cast. Guy and I  walked around the lake in the mist, unsure of how far around we were, when we came upon the inlet stream. There we caught fish which seemed to have their noses in the flow of the inlet: we literally dropped flies in the little 10 inch-wide flow, and let them spill a foot into the lake and then tightened up on fish that went five pounds.

Then there was the time PD and I fished Crystal Waters in an August wind. While we were setting up, I made the mistake of taking my foot off my float tube, and it blew away across the veld and was stopped by a farm fence.  Later we paddled across to what we reasoned was a slightly more sheltered bay, but that crossing was like an Atlantic crossing, I got cramp, and PD landed one miserable fish the whole day.

Then Roy and I went up the Ncibidwane higher than we had ever been before, in searing heat that weakened us to that point where one’s humour becomes childish. Roy forgot a teaspoon and I have a picture of him in the scant shade of a protea eating his breakfast yoghurt with his fingers.  

Roy Ward

I got one 12 inch Brown, but I got an epic picture of Roy hiking out, visibly tired and drenched with sweat, but with the majesty of the mountain behind him.

Ncibidwana

Last year on the Sterkspruit, Anton and I fished a particularly windy day at Knighton. Just below the bridge a spectacular cliff  plunges into the river at a  deep pool. Standing fishing at that pool I watched Anton beat the howling gale to get a fly into the sweetest spot in the run, and land a magnificent Rainbow.

Sterkspruit

In a section just above, I raised countless fish from the same run, and they were all a fair size, but only every second cast was actually landing in the river. At some point we blocked out the wind and hours later we suddenly realized that it had stopped, and neither of us could remember when.

This last winter, my friend Stu invited me to accompany him on a training exercise with his dogs. We drove up onto the high ground. When we got there we sat in the vehicle, as it rocked in the wind, while Stu dialed into his weather station, which was in sight across the slope. It revealed winds of 35 knots, a temperature of 2 degrees, and a wind chill-adjusted temperature of minus 4!  I borrowed another jacket from Stu, tightened my cap until it gave me a headache, and off we went with the dogs. I loved being in that windswept high country. It was exhilarating.

High country

As a school kid, Vince and I were dropped of by my mother at Selsley dam to fish, with a promise to pick us up at the end of the day. In the early afternoon, a storm approached, and then it started to rain. In those days that water was in an expanse of open veld, with no tree or shelter in sight.  A Landrover arrived just then, and we went across to greet its occupants, hopeful of shelter. They were fishermen who had come down into the valley to try the lower dam, having been chased off the Old Dam by a storm.  They opened the back door of the Landy to greet us, but when a squall blew in, they shut the Landy door in our faces, leaving us to the elements. (May they rot in hell!).  Vince and I were frightened by the lighting, so we decided to make a run for Mick Kimber’s house about 2 kms away.  Along the way a hailstone hit the peak of my cap, and I said “Hey Vince! I just got hit by….”, but I didn’t get to finish my sentence and we were pummeled by a deluge of stinging hailstones all the way to shelter.

I once got caught in a vicious rainstorm while down in the gorge on Reekie Lyn on my own.

Reekie Lyn
Photo by Rogan Ward

I left my graphite rod a safe distance away and sheltered in what barely passed as a rock shelter. I started out quite smugly, because apart from some splash, I was largely dry. But then the wind changed direction and I was drenched to the skin. I would have carried on fishing afterwards, but the river had turned to a raging torrent. The walk back to the car was a sweet and memorable experience in the cool of freshly doused summer veld, awash with puddles and watsonias. The farmer, drove down the valley to “rescue me”, but I tactfully declined the lift, because I was fine, and enjoying the walk back so much that I didn’t want to be in the stuffy confines of a farm bakkie.  Looking back, I suppose that was rather antisocial of me. I hope I didn’t offend him!

One summer we were staying at Shepherd’s cottage. The days were windy and hot and I yearned for a cool still evening or a cloudy day, in which I could fish in comfort.  For the first few days, the evenings were blown out by a cold east wind, or by rain, and the windows of opportunity to fish closed in less time than it takes to rig up a fly rod. One day a refreshing storm seemed to be forming in a windless sky and there looked to be an opportunity. I rigged up and set out to walk from the cottage to Reggie’s dam, but along the way the wind suddenly picked up, and mysterious and vicious looking clouds in tornado-like swirls came whisking in close to the ground and scudded across the sky seemingly just off the top of my fly rod.

storm clouds

The light was eerie, and the wind moaned through taught fence wires. It started to feel like the build up in the movie “Twister” . I got to the dam and had a few casts, but to be honest, I was feeling a little rattled by the ominous and peculiar weather. Mindful of the fact that tornadoes are less uncommon here than anywhere else I know, I packed it in and set off back to the cottage at something like a run.

Then there was the time PD and I hiked up the Bokspruit to somewhere way above Kitefell, higher than we had ever been before. It was cold, with the temperature hovering around 8 degrees, and parcels of even more frigid air coming up over the escarpment to the east.  We fished a bit, and we made some coffee on the stove, but at some point one of us remarked that we were a long way from civilisation, the weather was displaying a propensity to turn properly ugly; and we had best get down off the mountain while we had some daylight hours left.

Bokspruit

There was no argument, and we quickly set off for the hike back, only truly relaxing  several hours later  when we were back down in the valley on familiar paths in warmer climes, and with enough daylight to know we would make it easily. Of course afterwards I wondered if we hadn’t been a bit hasty. Maybe if we had stayed another hour we might have got one of those rare and beautiful Rainbows from up there……..

A few years back, my friend Neil was up in KZN on a medical conference, and we managed to line up a night away at West Hastings in the cottage. The weather turned that week-end, and by the time we got up there on the Saturday, it was hovering at around 4 degrees and everyone was listening for  news of snow. It never did snow, but it rained and it blew, and our cheeks stung from the cold. But we fished, and if memory serves, Neil out-fished me convincingly with a couple of strong rainbows going 4 to 5 pounds.

Rainbow Trout

We were wading and fishing short casts in rolling swells as the southerly wind pushed through. That night we got a roaring fire going, and caught up on news over a fine bottle of red that he had brought up from the Cape with him. 

Then there was Lesotho, up at Mordor on the Bokong in the driving rain…….

Bokong River
Fishing friends

I could go on, but I guess we all have these memories. You undoubtedly have your own. I wouldn’t mind betting that a good many of them revolve around beating or suffering, wild weather.