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!
It is a term my fishing buddies and I have adopted over the years. It refers specifically to Brown Trout, and it is an attempt to describe their behaviour when they are prevalent, on the feed, and generally visible to the observant flyfisher.
Browns, as we all know, are fickle things. They have a habit of disappearing, both in stillwater and in streams. Their apparent disappearance is a very common cause of comments about inadequate stocking, or the catastrophic effects of a drought, or deep suspicions and conspiracy theories about sinister fish-kills.
I too have fallen for their tricks and have contributed to those theories and creased brow comments of failure and doom.
But after you have given up hope, and have phoned the hatchery for quotes, or scoured the country for ever more hard to find stocks of Brown Trout fingerlings, do yourself a favour and go try the stream a few more times.
Pick a grey drizzly day if you can, but if you don’t get one of those, go anyway.
And maybe. Just maybe. You will be blessed with a day when the Browns are “On the prod”.
On those rare and beautiful days, if (and only if) you are an observant angler, you will see some crazy stuff!
Firstly, you will spook fish. They will shoot out from under your feet in the most crazy of places. They will be in stagnant mucky looking backwaters, and in holes under your feet. They will be lying in the shadow of a crack in a rock, no wider than you could have cut with a bread knife. Some might just be right out in the open on a pale streambed, so obvious that you can stop and photograph them.
Just the other day, I was walking up the Mooi just ahead of my colleague, peering into the water, when a small Brown shot down the shallow run towards me, raced off across the river to snaffle something, and returned to a feeding lie right in front of me. I lifted the camera very slowly to my eye and took this photo of him:
At times like this, I don’t even need to cast to them. Watching them is enthralling in itself. Malcolm Draper referred to the term “existence value” the other night in the pub. They have a value because they exist, and we can watch them. I like that.
On another day I was again walking ahead while another fishing buddy was below me fishing a “pearler” of a pool that I had deliberately skipped and put him onto. I was on the thin and less obvious water upstream of that, and it seemed a bit hopeless. It was a bright, clear day, and the stream was flowing low and clean over sheets of almost unbroken sheet rock. I was on a high bank, with the fly stuck in the keeper, and my mind more on observation than fishing in the traditional sense. Suddenly, from under a tuft of grass at my feet, out shot a fish of around 14 inches!
Where was I……..The other thing that will undoubtedly happen when they are on the prod, is that you will lift your fly from the water, and a fish will chase it right to your feet, and your reactions will have been too slow to stop the lift in time to let him catch the fly. You have had that happen to you, haven’t you!
You will miss fish too. They will just fall off the fly for no apparent reason, barbed or barbless hook….it is immaterial. You will have struck gently but firmly, and you will have kept even pressure, and your hook will have been a sharp one too. It will happen. Frustrating!
The other thing that will happen when the Browns are “on the prod”, (with a bit of luck), is that you will catch some.
The above fish pictures are just a random sample of fish caught on the Mooi (the dreadfully drought ravaged, “where have all the fish gone”, “we are going to have to re-seed it” Mooi), and were all caught during the month of October.
Yes. This month. October 2016.
The Browns have been “on the prod” !
…..and on public and club water……..
Forgive me for sharing the exact same picture a second time, but I thought this was too good not to.
See the picture taken by me recently and posted here on Truttablog (Photo of the moment no 46). Hopefully you realised that there is a trout in there
Now look at the picture below. It is a picture taken by Tom Sutcliffe on a stream he frequents. Tom showed me a stream recently, and after we had fished it, I returned a few days later with my wife for a casual hike (I was under strict “no fishing” rules!) As we walked along, I instinctively looked for fish, and one of those spotted is the one in the photo above.
I was trolling an old post on Tom’s website recently when I spotted the picture below. I instantly recognised the fish by its spot pattern. Clear as daylight: same fish!
Have a look. Clear, isn’t it?
OK, I recognised the rock with the curve in it.
If I had been Tom, I might have recognised the spots. After I had fished with him, and he had pointed out a great many fish, some of which I never did see, I told him that I have a new nickname for him: “Kehlamehlo”. It is a Zulu name, and directly translated means “Old Man Eyes”.
In Zulu, to call someone “Old” is in and of itself, a mark of respect. When you witness Tom spotting fish, you can’t help but have respect for him. He truly is a master of the art.
* To see an excellent sample of fish spotting pictures and to take Tom’s fish spotting challenges, see the link above and other “spotting trout” essays in the nine part series on his excellent website, which he posted in 2010.
A piece of open stillwater can be a bland thing. The other day Neil and I were out on some lovely, but somehow dull water. There was a dead calm, and we didn’t see or touch a fish. I suggested that the day was a good advert for stream fishing.
But sometimes it is very different.
Today I was out alone on a small piece of water. Being mid winter the water was crystal clean, but more importantly the light was right. Light is so important in fly-fishing, but the right light is also so very difficult to describe.
Suffice to say that one wants little or no smoke or haze, and generally the light behind you, or at least high overhead. You want your polaroids to be working a treat. That day, the sun was in fact ahead of me, but there was a steep bank opposite, such that a small band of water was without sheen or reflection.
It was weeded up close to where I was waded, but twenty yards out there was a channel. I suddenly caught sight of a trout there, moving quite fast, and the under-water world opened up. Funny how that happens: You are looking at the surface, and then suddenly something moves, your eyes adjust, and now you are looking through the surface instead of at it.
Here is a little help (since I had the all important help of having seen it move.
And some more images of other fish during the morning:
You are not sure if what you think is the fish, is in fact it, are you?
Neither was I !
They would appear and then disappear again, like ghosts. Given that it was flat calm most of the time, I daren’t cast until a gust of wind came. The fish were moving up and down, and I could only see them when the breeze abated. But when the calm set in, I would surely line them. So I waited for Nirvana: I needed to spot a fish in dead calm, and keep it in my vision until a puff of wind ruffled the surface. Then I would cast to a point 2 yards in front of the fish, and wait for it to intercept. Maybe tweak the fly as it came along.
In an hour and a half, that scenario presented itself just once. It was a cast demanding a double haul to get there. The fly landed perfectly. Although the water was now riffled, I saw the mouth open as the Trout took my fly. I struck.
And it came free.
I did land two fish later on, fishing blind, but for me, fooling that fish earlier, was what made my day, even if I didn’t get a hand to it. And was it worth and hour and a half?
Footnote. The photos were taken at ISO800 on 1/80th of a second and zoomed to about 800 to 1000mm. They were lightened and contrast and highlights enhanced in Lightroom to make the fish more visible. When there was no wind at all I concentrated on photographing them instead of trying to catch them, as I knew I wouldn’t stand a chance!