Waters & words : a celebration of flyfishing

Posts tagged “watching trout

Paint by Numbers

Brown Trout

From atop the bridge pilaster I gazed into the swirling water of the pocket on the upstream side. It is too small a piece of water to be called a pool, but it is bigger than many of the others. Put it this way, it’s a place you would put a fly if you were rock-hopping up this way. My eyes followed the tongue of current…the thalweg…to its point of dispersion. That point where the rush of water dissolves and spreads enough that you know a brown trout will take up occupancy there. A rainbow would go above that into the faster flow, but a wise old brown, that’s where he would sit. The water was clear as ice, the peat stain of mid summer all washed out of it, but the surface swirled and the sunlight danced, and my eyes lied to me, and I couldn’t see a fish. I decided to follow what the texts say and just keep staring stubbornly and with resolve at exactly the same spot, believing a Trout into existence. The river bed  was a dappled mix of pale yellows and fawns…remnants of sandstone which line the river bed between clusters of black igneous boulders. It should be the perfect backdrop against which to spot a Trout…more akin to a Cape mountain stream that a KZN Midlands one…this shouldn’t be difficult.

Nothing.

Then the Trout moved. This gave away the colour I should be looking for. In this light it was a grey. Not a dove grey, but a charcoal smudge on a rough textured sketch paper.  I find that defining these visual clues to myself helps me. So I will spot a ghost of a fish, and immediately come up with the words to describe the colour, or shape or movement, or perhaps the position. I will even speak them out loud. “Directly in line with that dead stick”; “nose pushes forward from black to pale rock”;  “a few inches to the right of the rounded stone with a light patch on it”. This helps me find the fish again if I lose sight of it. It also forces me to think about how I spotted it…what gave it away. And if a stranger  heard me speaking to myself this way it would probably serve to scare them off, fearful of this strange and possibly dangerous nit, creeping around amongst the Ouhout, speaking to himself.

The fish, or rather the image of it, came and went. A billow of water, a passing cloud, or a random spilling pattern on the surface would obscure it, and then I would find it again, using my self-talk as a guide.

I looked around. The spot was tight against the bridge. It was also cut off from the perfect casting spot I occupied by a barbed wire fence. A tight new, authoritative type of fence that shouted “No trespassers” , without needing a sign to say that. I don’t have permission to fish this stretch. I also don’t own a one weight, or a bamboo fly rod, and I reckon those would be the only proper options with which to  grace a fish like this.

Below the bridge, I do have permission to fish, and the stream is that much bigger there, such that I have decreed the two weight to be the appropriate tool.  Of course the stream cant be bigger below the bridge. That would be illogical.

sdr_vivi

The quantity of water flowing in under it is identical to that flowing out from beneath it 15 feet lower, but one needs a line, just like  I needed a line to keep my vision locked on that sleek, almost motionless Brown. A line between the charcoal smudge and the pale ochre behind it.

The day prior, I had used the two weight on the stretch below, despite my faith in my own formula  wavering. My own formula being ”Two weight above the Wakecroft Stream confluence, 3 weight below, and 4 weight down below the Furth Stream confluence”. My doubt was tugged at by the thought of wind, and more so by the fullness of the stream, but in the end I stuck to the paint-by-numbers formula. 4,3,2….and I stuck to the 2 weight.  A 2 weight for  an 18 inch brown in May; a 3 weight for a 17 incher in February, and a 4 weight for a 19 incher in September. It has been a good season.

I smiled to myself at the memory of the big fish the day before. Caught late on a pretty afternoon, with the slanting sun throwing rose tints on the view of the homestead above. Baboon Hill and Fowler’s Folly behind it. A tiny nymph (#20) sunk deep beneath a dry fly.  18;20;2.

The delicate parachute dry just started mooching off like a dog hearing its bathtub being filled. It didn’t scud, or dart, or tug. It just mooched, so subtly that I would say it didn’t even drag. But I had been focused on the spot, because I had faith that there was a good fish in there.  It was a bit like the faith you need when the paint-by- numbers instructions  say “purple here”, and you have seen the photo of what you are painting, and there aint no damn purple in it!

Faith.

Like the faith I needed to muster to use my 9 foot 4 weight on this same stream. It was a season or two back. I had not used anything heavier than a 3 weight on this stream in decades, but with my mate Ray being so addicted to his 10 foot dry fly rod, I started to develop an itch. What if I had more length to get the rod tip up above the high summer growth, the autumn blackjacks. What if I could fish the lift properly without yanking the fly out too early. Not bowing to the anxiousness of duffing the next cast with a snag at lift-off? Ray had described that reach. Ten foot added to his arm. The high dangle. The fly held out over the flow ahead, almost below the rod tip, dancing on the water enticingly for moments longer than I could do with a shorter rod.  “But what of the delicacy of presentation?” I had thought.  “Paradoxically the heavier the line the more lightly you can make it fall upon the water” answered  Huish Edye from the pages of my bedtime reading that night.

So I had faith, and I  tried it.    19 inches. 4 days into the season, on the 9 foot 4 weight. Size 12 Bugger.  My best ever Brown from the stream. 19; 12;4

In between. February. The 3 weight. A 17 inch Brown, on a #18 Troglodyte. 17;18;3.

Now 18;20;2

19124
17183
18202

Can you see the purple patch in the numbers?

Me neither.

When I looked back into the stream the Brown was gone. I guessed it’s length  at 11 inches.

I have its location now. All I need is the bamboo rod, and permission. Oh, and a way to cast from the bridge over the barbed wire fence, and then if I get the fish, a way of netting it. I think I will need an accomplice hiding in the bushes to the side of the stream.

As you can see my flyfishing, and the Trout I pursue don’t fit to formulas.


Clarity on matters aqueous

In his book “Fly fishing outside the box”, Peter Hayes says that one needs watchable fish in order to study their behavior.

That sounds like an obvious thing to say, but let’s consider it in the South African context:

In the Western Cape we have generally clear streams emanating from a rocky landscape. The streambed is often pale, even whitish in colour, and although the slightly brackish water gives the streambed a yellow tinge, you still commonly have many pale areas against which trout spotting opportunities abound.

In the Eastern Cape the streams are a bit more inclined to dirty after rain. There is also an abundance of deep green pools. However, between those pools are ample areas of mottled stone, incorporating paler shades.

IMG_0166

(can you see the trout?)

I have had many exciting trout spotting experiences  on streams like the Bokspruit, and Riflespruit. Moments when you can’t decide whether to employ the fly rod or the camera, but in either event you can spend long moments relishing the sight of a finning Rainbow. I say “relish” because there is a delight in just watching these lithe and fleeting fish. They appear and then blend, and re-appear, and watching them becomes an exercise in concentration.

And that exercise yields information every time. Every observation opportunity is one in which you can imprint on your mind another example of how and where these fish move, what scares them, how close you can get to them, and a myriad other tiny observations. These are observations that we learn from, probably without realising it. One day you will be explaining something about trout to a beginner angler, and he will ask “How do you know that?”.  You won’t immediately know how it is that you came to know it, but it will be because you have watched these fish.

Here in KZN, I experience fewer opportunities to watch fish. It is difficult to explain quite why, but let me attempt it anyway. For one thing, and I am generalising here, we have a lot of deep green water. That is water that, even when clean, appears bottle green, and is very difficult to look into. We consider it clean, and it is, but a lot of it is deep, and perhaps more importantly, it is against a mud, or black rock bottom.

Reekie Lyn bottle green (1 of 1)

Even in the more shallow runs, the river bed is not one that lends itself to trout spotting quite like other provinces. And then too we have a fair amount of cultivation in our catchments, so that in summer one encounters water that is not as sparkling as it could be.

PD (1 of 1)

We can of course head up into the mountains more, as Peter Brigg does, but even Peter remarked the other night how we don’t have trout spotting opportunities quite like the Western Cape. I agree with him. The other thing to consider, is that we are often searching for Brown Trout, and they are a wily prey if ever there was one! But somewhere like the upper Bushmans does offer some opportunity to observe our prey.

jnl 1-6-2

I think that the point of all this, is to say that even a stillwater fly-fisherman would do well to seek out trout spotting opportunities in order to build his knowledge of the fish that we hunt.  And so, regardless of the small size of the fish we may encounter in some of the thinner, higher waters, I treasure every opportunity I get to go looking for fish. In particular, I look forward to our regular forays to the North Eastern Cape. I would encourage fellow KZN anglers to spread their wings a little, and visit the berg, The NE Cape, and the Western Cape.  It has been far too long since I last wet my own feet in a Western Cape stream.  I feel a trip coming on.