Waters & words : a celebration of flyfishing

Posts tagged “Umgeni River

Sneaky!

Then and now

It was the 18th April 1999. Guy and I were fishing the uMngeni on Brigadoon, on what my fishing log describes as “Blacks Water”. That was the section of river above the confluence of the Furth Stream, and at some time not long past, it had been the farm of John Black, and if memory serves, Derek Fly had bought it or taken it over, and its length was now added to the beat known to us as Brigadoon.
At that time all the riverside lands from the Furth confluence up to Picnic Pool were planted to maize, and the river banks were wild and rank. I have a picture of Guy, whose hairstyle at the time was also ‘wild and rank’, chest high in the undergrowth, throwing a fly into Picnic pool. He is clearly fishing downstream, and I know it would have been with a sinking line, and probably with a #14 Connemara Black or an Invicta on the end.

Guy Robertson at Picnic Pool

Fishing the uMngeni in 1999

As we progressed above picnic pool I clearly remember entering a section of river that was a tumble of black rock, with a firm bedrock of the same colour. Tall grass overhung the river on all sides where it split into braided channels. There in that tumble of rock and tall grass that shaded the water as we waded up, I remember pricking and seeing small browns. I seem to remember that I took the left-hand side of the stream, and Guy took the right, and when we rejoined just a dozen yards higher up at the tail of the pool above, we had both seen and pricked numerous fish, and landed none. And that was after a day in which we hadn’t seen fish since we first started out into the valley below. I remember peering up the river into a wattle-shaded tunnel of darkness, and asking Guy where he thought the top boundary of Brigadoon was, and that he replied that we were pretty much there and that all above was overgrown. We retreated back to the bottom boundary where I landed two browns over two pounds that evening. That last run, however, stuck in my mind, and every time I have visited that stretch , I have fished it, with an air of expectancy built on that experience all those years ago.
I had started fishing Brigadoon in April of 1985, but always the lower section. Then in much more recent years I have become very familiar with the water at the top of Brigadoon, and above that on Furth Farm. I discovered that Guy was not wrong about the river being overgrown, but that in fact we were still a way from the top boundary of Brigadoon. I have since witnessed the wonderful transformation of that river, when the wattles were all removed, and the river came back to life.
It was probably in the knowledge of that, and how dear the river is to me, that Tom Sutcliffe sent me this picture from his archives a few months back:

The uMngeni river in the 1980s. Photo by Neil Hodges, courtesy of Tom Sutcliffe.

The picture was taken by the late Neil Hodges, some time in the mid eighties.
There was an instant glimmer of recognition, when I saw that braided water in the foreground, but the hills didn’t look right and I started to doubt myself. During lockdown, I kept revisiting that picture, and working my way up the river in my mind, ruling out one spot after another. I was muttering to myself, things like “No…not there…the steep side is on the opposite bank”, and “no, no rapid in that spot”. I couldn’t work out where the shot was taken, and it started to haunt me.
When the end of lockdown finally set us free, I wasted little time in getting up to the uMngeni, even thought the season was closed. I had the picture open on my phone, and I drove up the valley, stopping here and there to look at the horizon, and the orientation of the river, and occasionally to walk down to the water’s edge, where I shook my head in puzzlement. I just couldn’t work it out. I sat in the driver’s seat for a while studying the horizon in front of me, and that in the picture. It all sloped the wrong way!
And then it dawned on me, and I put the bakkie into reverse and beetled back down the road to a spot where I could park. I strode down to the river muttering “Neil, you sneaky bugger” repeatedly, and with increasing conviction as I glanced up at the emerging profile of the horizon as I got closer to the spot. At the river I took my boots off, and waded through the icy clear water, before hiking up the steep hill on the other side. I maneuvered myself to a precise spot in the middle of a bramble patch, and checked the phone one last time. It looked perfect, but if I could just locate the fence-post in the foreground of the old picture…. I searched in the now overgrown area in front of me to no avail. Then I pointed to where I thought the post should be and ran my pointing finger up the slope, tracking the direction of the fence in the old picture. As I swung around , there behind me was a string of old rusted posts tracking exactly the same line, and it was then that I knew I was in precisely the right spot.
I phoned Tom, and accused him of being complicit in Neil’s sneaky attempt to conceal the spot: The photo had been flipped!

 

 

uMngeni River

Brigadoon farm on the Umgeni


Pewter and Charcoal: Gierach and conservation perfection

On obsessing about conservation while fishing, Gierach once wrote:

“I can’t say I spent a lot of time brooding about this: the fishing was too good for that, and I also understood that if you chase perfection too far down the rabbit hole, you can end up growing your beard down to your belt buckle and carrying a sign that reads “The End Is Near”. “

(A fly Rod of your Own:  John Gierach)

I am trying to avoid the beard and the sign, but I do relish this one place, which to me represents a degree of conservation perfection attained. It is very dear to me.

Bird pool view (1 of 1)

The black mist

On the eve of our planned trip, I happened to be up on the river. Call it a bit of a “forward patrol”.  It was late afternoon, and I was peering into what looked like slightly brown water, squinting against the harsh afternoon rays of the sun, that were beaming in from the west to burn my corneas. “I think it could be clear by tomorrow” I reported to The Viking, factoring in the that there were 14 hours between us and our planned trip, as well as the fact that we would be about 3kms upstream.

I was not wrong.

Our Saturday dawned bright and clear, and when we arrived at the river in the dew, it too was “bright and clear” in the way that good Trout streams are in the early morning light.

Stoneycroft (7 of 39)

The Viking was into a fish in the first run, as was I at the pool just above him.

Stoneycroft (1 of 39)

From there the day unfolded in a delightful haze of small Browns grabbing at the fly; rounding corners and exclaiming “Aah, gee look at that!”, and brief moments looking skyward at circling birds of prey. Sure there were brambles, and the ‘khaki bos’ and blackjacks were at the point of seeding in a spectacularly bad display of what happens when we muck with pristine valleys. But all in all, and with the nostalgic review that accompanies the memories of a good day astream, it was a brilliant outing.

Stoneycroft (6 of 39)

The Viking fished several stretches that I had explained I was going to fish. When he caught up with me, I translated my flailing hand signals, which were meant to convey that I had already fished it, and invariably he replied “I know, but it just looked so good” .

It did look good.

Stoneycroft (13 of 39)

All of it.

The water was not as clear as the upper Bok in winter, but you could see every pebble on the streambed, and the Trout were not scarce. They were not big either. Somehow we got much bigger fish here last year, but it really didn’t matter.  At one spot I climbed into the river, and seeing a dead tree behind me, I flicked the fly out in a half hearted roll cast, so that you would have been able to reach the strike indicator with a garden rake.  That dark orange indicator (my solution to  silvery afternoon light) positively leapt forward and I lifted into a fish that wouldn’t quite have made twelve inches, but it was my best of the day.

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The Viking’s best had come earlier. I saw him hoist the fish aloft after a whistle to alert me to his success, and I rather suspect he had wanted me to go down there and photograph it. But I had moved into a good position in such a sweet run, that I pretended not to know that, and fished on with my dry fly.

Stoneycroft (37 of 39)

Back at the car, the Viking produced the special “Black Mist” craft beer that he had been boasting about. It was cold, and it was wet, which are two good attributes of any beer opened at the end of a long sunny day on a Trout river. But I said I could taste undertones of Bovril, and peaty water from a bog in Scotland. While The Viking was deciding whether to be offended or not, I asked if I could have the second one.  As we drove home our light mood battled our tiredness, and the elevating effects of the black mist, which we agreed was an entirely different thing to The Red Mist. But we agreed that if you drank enough of one, it could lead to the other.

We also agreed that it had been a day to celebrate, and in the morning I reviewed the pictures which helped  support that judgment, with satisfaction.


A lie is a lie

Last season, I stood in the middle of a road drift across the uMngeni, and threw a fly upstream. I suppose it was not a tame road crossing. Not some concrete slab with guide railings, just a spot identified as a good one for tractor crossings, where years ago the farmer shaved the banks a bit. All the same, it felt just a little bit domestic to be standing there fishing, in the way that one feels when you stand on a jetty.

Anyway, I had seen a fish rise in a spot beside the chute at the top of the run, and I had spotted it in the water since. I put a fly over it, and got the fish. It was a slightly better size than the average…around 12 inches.

Upper Umgeni River-9

That was the 22nd March 2019. The spot where I had found it stayed with me.

Fast forward to this year. My friend and I were on the river again. When it came to dividing up who would go where, I confess, I sort of engineered it that I would get that spot again. A lie is a lie, and they stay good.

uMngeni spot (1 of 1)

I carefully surveyed the flow, reminding myself exactly where the fish was last time, and put in a cast. The fish took the fly first cast!  It rolled over clumsily as they sometimes do, and having showed itself, managed to wriggle free, despite my maintaining tension.

On the way back down to the bakkie that evening, we were crossing the river at the drift. I stopped, waited for my colleague to catch up with me, and instructed him to throw a fly “there”.  I explained the location in great detail, such that there was no doubt where the dinner plate size target was. 

He listened intently, and then delivered a cast right into the spot, and before you could say “predictable”, he had it.  But this time too, it wriggled free.

Four days later on the 19th March 2020, I was working in the valley. Late in the afternoon, when the others had packed up and gone home, I stayed on, and rigged up a rod.  I strode purposefully up to the drift, and waded into the right position. The river was up about 3 or 4 inches from a few days back, but the rock marking the target was still just protruding. I delivered a nymph 2 centimetres to the left and 13 centimetres  above. The indicator shot forward and I had him.

uMngeni spot (1 of 1)-2

Yes…I have checked the spots. It is a different fish.


Photo of the moment (111)

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This little fellow took a nymph in quick water on Stoneycroft farm, a place I have been hanging out at a lot lately.


Taking care of Comfort

I took a picture of the confluence of the Furth Stream and the Umgeni and prepared to sent it via whatsapp it to my friend George. George and I had met in the pharmacy that morning; he with a headache of undeclared origin (I suggested he reconsider his whiskey brand) and me stocking up on kidney pills.  He had asked about the river clarity. Everyone has been asking that this week….they want to get on some trout water on the weekend.  I said I would send a picture later.

While I was typing the explanation of the clean water from the Furth and the not so clean water of the Umgeni, there was a “gallumph” and a trout engulfed something off the surface in the exact spot I had just photographed. I ditched the message by hitting “send”, and took the second picture just as the ripples from the rise were subsiding.

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Comfort was just over the stream working the brush-cutter to clear a path through the blackjacks for our autumn fishing. I worried about leaving him alone to finish the job. Just the day before I had found him clearing grass stems wrapped around the blade shaft, with his bare hands and the motor still running. But I reasoned that since I had just taught him how to use a shifting spanner, and which way to turn a nut to tighten it, perhaps he was coming up in the world, and would be OK.

Him and I had been tightening nuts on the handrail supports of our bridge over the Furth. Every time something went “plop”, Comfort declared it a frog, and I did a quick inventory of my tools to see what to add to my growing shopping list from the local hardware store. 

The day before, I lead a team of guys rolling out erosion control mats above the Furth higher up. The choreography of “Rake, seed, fertilise, unroll to a pre-determined point, peg”…… and repeat, had proved difficult. We went back and forth for seed, and rakes and fertilizer bags, and the unroll direction of the mat kept veering down-slope, threatening to steer our trajectory into an uncontrolled  downhill unraveling. “Soos ‘n myn trok sonder remme” as they say. I took Comfort off the lead role, and things went a bit better.

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That gave me time to go and take a stroll along the stream.  It was flowing as clear as the water George forgot to put in his whiskey.  Although when you looked at the deep pools, you would have said it was off colour.

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Funny how it does that. Put an underwater camera in there and you see how clean it really is.  The Umgeni at picnic pool was the same this morning. The pool looked like milo, but taking a look at the rocky sections above and below, Alfred and I agreed, it was perfectly clean enough and called for a dry fly.

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A dry fly was what my friend Neil tried on the Furth stream when I lured him there this week, but he lucked out. Maybe it was Comfort who put the fish down. Comfort, the male, Zulu version of Marge Simpson, with a beanie perched on top of his weird hairdo, bobbing about on the river bank. On the drive home on Tuesday I took a look at the arrangement atop his oddly shaped swede , when I turned in the driver’s seat to see where the snoring was emanating from. It seemed that my Colter Wall, Jaimi Faulkner and Mark Knopfler from the stereo had this effect on Comfort. One minute his droopy bloodhound eyes were mesmerized by the yellow line zipping towards him, and the next he was a gonner …  Lulled to sleep by this somber music and a day of intense problem solving. 

Other problem solving we did this week, was trying to work out where the dirty water was coming from. Ok, the problem solving I was doing.  Comfort took the first amendment on that one. I met the farmer in a local shop, and he pointed me to where he thinks the problem might be coming from.  With all the rain on the way, I thought of doing a rain walk….a thing I learned of while in the UK: you walk a river in the rain to see first hand where the mud is coming from. I could take a fly rod to use above the offending tributary, go alone, ditch all the blood sweat and tears of river work, and go for a soul nurturing walk.

But then I remembered: Someone has to take care of Comfort. “Pick you up at the turnoff at 7am” I said, and he grinned back at me.


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Photo of the moment (106)

Upper Umgeni River-11


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Photo of the moment (102)

Umgeni River Trout-8


Lessons from the landscape: the 1600m contour

Here in the KZN midlands, altitude is accepted as a defining criteria for Trout water. It has long been held that trout will survive above 1200meters above sea level, and there is very little fishable water above 1800metres.   So within that band of 1800m down to 1200m, there are a few critical bands, and I would argue that one of them is the 1600m band.  I say that because every listed trout stream in these parts rises above 1600m.

So here is where that contour runs along the front of the Drakensberg:

The 1600m contour in KZN

Interesting isn’t it!

For me what makes it fascinating is that:

  • It shows deeply incised valleys where streams cross the line remarkably close to the escarpment
  • It shows that ridge of high ground that runs out into the province from the end of Giants Castle to Inhlosane mountain, very clearly
  • And from the few spot heights I threw in on the map above, you will see that there are many islands of ground above 1600m, many of which are a long way “from the mountains”.

One also  quickly concludes that the altitude alone is a poor measure of where trout thrive.  In studying a map in detail, you come to realise that trout will survive and indeed thrive in stretches of river at low altitudes where the valley sides rise to much higher altitudes, and cool short tributaries contribute to the river (Examples, The Inzinga and the Umgeni).  Also, if the drainage upstream of where you are standing is overgrazed or densely inhabited, or intensely farmed, then altitude becomes a less significant measure ( Example, The Bushmans below 1400m …below the clinic).  Also, if the stream is on a steeply drained area, where the cold fronts coming from the south west are forced up to generate orographic rainfall, the trout are better off.  So, for example, south of Giants Castle, the 1600m contour averages about 130 kms from the sea. North of the Hidcote ridge, where the berg tracks north, north-west, the sea is an average of 175 kms from the sea, and over 200kms in many cases.  Here it is drier, there are a lot fewer trout streams, and those that there are, have just a short run in the berg before they spill out onto flatter, warmer plains where they don’t hold Trout.  In fact, down south (and off below the limits of the map above), we know that in the Ingeli mountain area, trout are found as close as 80km from the sea at altitudes of under 1000m.  There the slope from the sea to Ngeli mountain is 25m per km.   From a similar altitude on the Mlambonja at Cathedral Peak, to the sea, the slope is under 8m per km.  Those southern areas get more life-giving mist and drizzle.  Did you ever notice how there are no thorn trees along the N3 from Maritzburg to Hidcote, then on the Estcourt side of Hidcote (the dry side), you can draw a line where the thorns start. Thorns like drier , and/or warmer climates.

Returning to our 1600m contour:  At a glance, it is encouraging to see how much land above this contour is in the Drakensberg park, and therefore conserved as catchment area.  The exception is where the land juts out from Giants Castle.  Parts of that area (top end of Dargle, Inzinga, Fort Nottingham, Western side of Kamberg etc) have at times been threatened by proposed developments. (I hope you will join me at the protests if they try again). 

 

See you in the highlands……above 1600 metres perhaps….


a Vote for messy

“So what I am suggesting here  is a complete approach to our waters where the competitive, lip-ripping edge is left back in the fast lane of societal superficialities and the joyful spirit of camaraderie, sportsmanship, and involvement with nature are the main goals”.  Jerry Kustich

I get a sense that my fly-fishing is a more messy affair than it is for the guys I bump into around these parts. 

Take Squidlips from Smoketown for example:  He  drives his blue Nissan up to the Bushmans on an appointed Saturday, and a day later there are a dozen glossy pictures on social media , most of which are of oversized browns. In fact there are few pictures of anything else. Slick.

I, on the other hand went fishing for a day a few week-ends back  and did little better than get caught in a storm.  In fact I got caught in two storms on the same day, the latter of which convinced me to go home.

fishing day-4

On the way home the road was as dry as can be, and I threw up dust all the way back down the valley.   On my return I learned that squidlips had had a red-letter day in the adjacent valley. I had managed a 10 inch Rainbow, in total.

And the week-end before my wife and I carried a stile up a river valley and installed it in the hot sunshine beside a low river, amongst the brambles.

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On our return we found that the coating on the upright had been wet and our clothes were trashed. I threw that pair of board shorts away after even petrol failed to remove the treacle.    It was too hot to fish, and the river was hideously low.  On the same day squidlips got a stonker of a fish on a stillwater not more than a few kilometers distant from our expedition.

On a midweek foray up the same valley, I didn’t even take a fly-rod. I just went to look at the condition of the river, and as it turned out, I walked a good five kilometers up the river, and returned the same way, getting home at eight that night.

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On another foray to shoot clay pigeons, I did so badly that I very narrowly missed being awarded the “bent barrel” award.  Apparently Squidlips is a crack shot.

A few weeks ago, I accompanied two mates onto a stretch of river to do some fishing and filming.  The river was low, and it was hot.  I spotted two fish, one of which I photographed, and both of which I spooked. After that I spent most of the time walking and checking on the river and taking photos of my pal fishing.

Umgeni-69

At sometime in between, PD and I stayed over at a cottage right on the shore of a dam, and fished the Saturday evening and Sunday morning.  The wind howled, and the water was dirty, and PD landed one fish, while I blanked. We spent a lot of time drinking tea off the camp stove and chatting, out of the wind.

Then on the way to fishing I picked up some coffee beans that just would not produce any crème on my espresso. I tried a finer ground, a harder tamp, and more coffee, all to no avail. All I got was a strong, bitter, over-extracted coffee. I swear I could hear the motor on my grinder straining!  Even the camp stove coffee that I made beside my vehicle at the river’s edge, had a thin acidity that made my lips curl.  Squidlips buys a generic, ready-made cappucino from the local garage, just before he hits the freeway on the way to fishing.  He reckons its perfect every time.

But here’s the thing:  I took the time to chat to the guy who sold me the coffee beans. He acknowledged a bad batch of beans and replaced the bag with a smile and no need for  a receipt.  He knows me from my regular stops there ….I tend to drop in either on the way to catching no fish, or on the way back.

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And  to add to that, this month, I learned the local  name of a mountain above a favourite trout water, which on all the maps, bears no label. And I walked miles up a beautiful remote river valley, re-orientating myself as to where the tributaries come in, and exploring the strength of their flow, and dangling my fingers in each one to see which is colder for future reference.

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And  at clay-pigeon shooting I re-acquainted with old friends and managed to confirm who owns a particular piece of river frontage. And on the way back from my walk in the hills I spotted a man who I needed to contact about some bramble clearing work, and we spoke at length in the dusk in the countryside.  Then this week I made some progress towards raising further funds for some restoration work on tributaries which Squidlips does not know exist (on account of them being too small to hold fish).

Squidlips phoned me midweek to ask about a particular piece of water. I tried to give him directions, but it was impossible, because he knew none of the features of the countryside to which I referred. He travels that valley all the time, but all he knows is the distances and road numbers, while I know the names of the hills, the owners of the farms, and the the mountain names (but no distances or road numbers)

Sometimes I beat myself up about my countryside distractions, that lead to limited fishing, coupled with duffer performance on the rare pure fly-fishing trips that do eventually come to pass. But then I  think about the clinical life of Squidlips, and I think that he can have his blue Nissan, and Smoketown and his grip and grin pictures.  Gierach once famously referred to his type as “city folk, with no poetry in their souls”.

I vote for messy.


Blood on my sandwiches

I had never hooked a trout before this week-end. That is to say, I had never held a fly between my two fingers, and used it to hook a trout. There is a first time for everything.

There is also a heavily wooded valley cut by a tributary of a favourite stream, which I had never entered. Here a reclusive and interesting man resides. I had never met this hermetic bloke before. What I have done before, is to go on a day’s fishing and not take my fly rod out of its tube. That happened once when PD and I holed up for breakfast at a favourite midlands haunt, and when the rain kept pounding down, and we tired of pigging out on coffee, we came home. This week-end I ended up at the same “piggly” place, but alas, they had run out of pork sausages. I pigged out on bacon instead, and then went on a circuitous fishing jaunt with Anton, in which the rod never saw the light of day. The fate of the stream in that same wooded valley was the same….never sees the light of day….owing to the rank woody growth that obscures the house tucked away in there, as much as it does the road in. We traversed that new road, right up to where it emerged within sight of Conniston Farm, where as a young child I collected tadpoles in a jar. So while the water held little promise, an orientation loop was neatly closed.

My friend Trevor throws a tight loop, which I was admiring when he caught a tadpole on Saturday. Well, it was in fact a brown, but it was of tadpole proportions. The tadpole capture was caught on film, as was the capture of my hooked trout, which was somewhat bigger, and for that I am a feeling a little smug.

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The first time I hooked it, it was perfectly legit. The second hooking was for the sake of the camera, so I don’t think it should tarnish the legitimacy of my success on celluloid. Later, when I was sneaking down to “Five Pounder Pool”, the cameraman observed that the TV viewers would see this in the background of the interview his colleague was conducting at the riverside, and he asked if that would be problematic. Picture the window-cleaner behind the TV presenter, or the kid who opens the door during a live feed from daddy’s study. The others felt that while I may have technically been poaching at the time, my sneaking around in the background would be “fairly legit”, whatever that means.

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The legitimacy of my excuse for not being at the hospital with my wife when her finger was stitched, is beyond reproach or question. I was fishing. Sort of. I was on that self same circuitous fishing trip, complete with bloody sandwiches. I do feel a little guilty that after the injury, I didn’t even eat the bloodied sandwiches, not because I am squeamish, but because I was lured to a pub with long cold glasses of lager, and jalapeno burgers. The pub with long cold glasses of lager, is where much of this weekend should have been spent, because it was too damned hot for trout. Tadpole sized or otherwise.

Anton offered to drop me off at the local sports ground on the way home so that I could practice my casting in the hot afternoon sun, but I declined. I had work to do, feeding sandwiches to the dog, and giving my wife a hug. Possibly wetting my wading boots under a tap and sucking on lager masking peppermints.

Earlier, after I had hooked my trout twice, and in response to a hair-brained idea involving a circuitous non fishing trip , he had asked me if my brain had disintegrated. The reply on my Whatsapp says “Yes, but I am fully expecting you to support me during this difficult time”. The reply was by my wife. That was when her typing finger was still OK, and before she took fright at Anton’s doorbell ringing and let rip with that new knife. And it was before Anton took me on a circuitous non fishing trip.

They say that reclusive bloke in the wooded valley is also a bit cooked, but maybe it’s just me. I don’t know. This heat has clouded my judgment.

They tell me it is going to snow this week. That might help.


Books, Boarding School, and Beats

“Often enough, the best position for a trout to see and catch these active nymphs is near the river bed”   ……..

”It is useless to try to tempt such a fish with an artificial nymph fished just below the surface, or to cast a dry fly over him” 

The words of Frank Sawyer, from the book Frank Sawyer, Man of the Riverside, compiled by Sidney Vines.

Frank Sawyer was famous for, amongst other things, The Pheasant Tail Nymph, which you can watch the man himself tying in this link.

Sawyer’s book “Keeper of the Stream was first published in 1952. In 1958 it was followed by “Nymphs and the Trout”, which was revised and re-published in 1970. Sawyer died in 1980, and Sidney Vines compiled “Man of the Riverside” after his death, and published it in 1984.

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In 1984 I was a schoolboy. A mad keen fly fishing schoolboy.

In that year I fished, amongst other places, Hopewell dam near Swartberg, Lake Overbury, A couple of dams in Underberg, The Umzimkulu, The Umgeni, and the Mooi on Game Pass.  It was my second visit to Game Pass. Back then it was privately owned, but fairly choked with wattles. My photos make for a valuable before-and-after record.  I also fished the Mlambonja at Cathedral Peak, and several dams in the Dargle. I also fished some water in the Hogsback, and fell in at a dam in the Karkloof.

My log book reflects that I was using 3X tippet on the dams and 5X on the rivers.  My best fish of the year was a “four pound, nine ounce” rainbow from “John’s dam”.   I remember this fish well. PD and I had walked up to the dam, and we fished the evening rise. It was in the dead of winter and ice cold overnight. I took forever to land that fish, and by the time I was done, it was pitch black.  We had no torch, and walked back the couple of kilometers to the farmhouse in the dark. Later PD confided that he couldn’t see a damned thing, and that he just followed the pale colour of the back of my shirt all the way home.

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What is puzzling, is that in 1984 I was in boarding school, and I think you will agree that the above fishing exploits were substantial for a youngster with no means of transport who spent most of the year limited to the school premises.

Its best to sit and consider these things to favourite music.  Call me a hillbilly, (which most of my music links will confirm) , but I really like this guy’s stuff:

Artist Justin Townes Earle on Spotify

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And in case you thought I was talking about a different sort of beat:

A recent catch return showing a pleasing number of browns caught on the Ncibidwane has my mind wondering back to our explorations there not so long ago.  I remember hiking up there with my family on a day so hot that what we mostly did was sweat and swim. I remember a day when we went up higher than we have ever done before, and then hiked back and saw a fish of near 20 inches within sight of the car. PD remarked “Why the hell did  we hike all the way up there?”. And I remember another long hot day of hiking with my friend Roy. On that day we found ourselves weakening by mid morning, and only then realised we had forgotten to eat our breakfast. We sat under the scant shade of a Protea, and Roy proceeded to eat a tub of yoghurt with his fingers….he had forgotten to bring a teaspoon!

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It’s time I got back there. I have a car nowadays. I am not limited to any premises. I might throw a Pheasant Tail nymph…….


Beats, Beans, Books…

Seasick Steve  does a wonderful rendition of “Gentle on my mind”   [click that if you have Spotify]  that I have been listening to lately at my tying bench.

Seasick Steve

But in case you thought “beats” referred to something else, I can give you some news on this river beat:

Sept 2018-104

That there is my movie making friend Zig, behind the lens. He and I were on the forest section of Furth Farm on the Umgeni last week, getting some pics of this lovely stream in a spot where it runs deep between rocky banks, shaded by a forest that now comprises only indigenous mistbelt species.  Post the stream restoration efforts, it really is looking great.  Next time I am up there, I am putting a Copper John through that deep water for sure! 

As far as beans go, I have been grinding some “end of the month” stuff….that is to say, some of the cheap stuff. It’s a gentle brew like Steve’s song….easy drinking with easy listening….. and it’s really good, especially in a common  run-through filter. 

Thornton-1

On the reading front I have just re-read “Stillwater Trout” by John Merwin, and then on a cold lazy Sunday, post the cold front, I tied up some Copper Johns, and to be sure I had it right, I referred to the book “Barr Flies” by the inventor of the Copper John himself, John Barr. As I was collecting the materials to start tying I stumbled on my “Daddy long legs” material [Hareline], and being one who struggles to follow a recipe, both in the kitchen, and at the vice, I used this material for the legs  instead of the feather fibres, as laid down by the originator of this pattern.

Copper John-1

Copper John-1-2

I like how they turned out.  The Copper John is arguably a bit heavy for our streams before the summer rains set in, but it is good to be prepared for those stronger flows.

With the snow and rain over the week-end, I rather thought that we might have had a lot of moisture, but when we bumped into a farmer friend on the Kamberg road, where he was attending to a stuck milk lorry, he said they had had only 4 mm of rain.  Further along the road, my bakkie threw up a bit of dust, and the illusion of a good start to spring was dashed.  But the Giant was resplendent in snow, and the air was crisp and clear, and that was good enough.

Giants Castle-1


Photo of the moment (100)

Furth Umgeni-15

No 100 has some significance.  It shows a cleared section of the Umgeni, which is very close to my heart. It shows Inhlozane mountain, which I grew up within sight of, and it was taken on a day when we caught browns in numbers markedly higher than before the place was cleared. That’s Rogan in the the river…all-round great guy and son of my late river clearing and flyfishing  pal Roy.   Call me sentimental!


Image

Photo of the moment (95)

Umgeni River-7


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Photo of the moment (93)

Umgeni Poort -1


Coffee & Quotes

We fished these streams with a weighty sense of proprietorship, and grave recognition that we might just be the only people on earth who cared that the Trout were there at all”   pg 38, Jerusalem Creek, Ted Leeson.

These words struck a chord with me when I first read them, to the extent that I immediately wrote them down in my journal. That “weighty sense of proprietorship” is exactly the feeling I get when I walk and fish my local river; a stream long forgotten by most, which I have probably written about and referred to, too much. Too much in the sense that perhaps I extoll its virtues in excess of what they really are. But after fishing there again on Sunday, and notwithstanding that the browns had a bad case of lockjaw, I am again raving about both the beauty and proximity of the place.

Umgeni River-13 

On the way out, my friend Ray and I stooped in at Steampunk for a brew of their good stuff, which happens to be the bean I am grinding at home at present too:

 

punk and Terb-2


a gentleman of the highest order

A few days back, a member of our fishing club booked to fish a fairly remote river beat on his own.  The river he chose is one that does not receive as much press as better known streams.

I do not know this man.

I do know that he heads up a large corporate concern that is a household name. I can imagine that he could afford to fish anywhere he liked. He is probably well connected and could fish some private water that I would not have access to. 

I do not know this man.

I do know that he once made a sizeable donation to a stream restoration project, but only on condition that his donation remain anonymous. The stream he booked to fish, is the one on which his donation was spent.  We used a play on words to name a pool after him, and included it on a recently produced map of the restored stream.  I don’t think he knows this. I wonder if he fished this pool……..

Umgeni-5

I saw his catch return come in. Despite high and coloured water, he persisted and caught a fair sized trout. In his catch return comment, he commended the work done on the river.

I know who this man is………he is a gentleman of the highest order.


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Photo of the moment (86)

Umgeni-11


Named Pools of the Umgeni

I love maps.

Let’s do a  drill-down to my nearest Trout Stream here in South Africa:

Firstly, for those outside of South Africa…. see below:

SA

Then, below is the detail of that purple rectangle above:

KZN

And below again: Detail of that red elipse above, showing the major Trout Streams of the KZN Midlands. (the red dots denote the source of each stream. The copper line shows a significant ridge of high ground, with altitudes in metres above sea level along it. )

image

Pick out the Umgeni River above, and here below is a general locality map of the area closer up, showing the zone directly above the UMGENI label in the map above:

Umgeni map inserts

Three detailed maps showing close ups of the colour coded areas in the above map:

1:

Black box from the locality map above:  (Furth and Brigadoon)  (which also includes the red area, further expanded upon in mapo no 2 hereunder)   [from “Trout on the doorstep” ]

Named Pools rev 1

2:

The red box from the locality map:  (Lower Brigadoon)  [From “Stippled Beauties”]

lower Brigadoon (1 of 1)

3:

The blue box from the locality map: (Chestnuts) [From Neville Nuttall’s “Life in the Country” ]

Chestnuts (1 of 1)

Here be Trouts indeed!