We are rapidly approaching the shortest day, in fact according to me, and I am notoriously unreliable with such matters it should be on Sunday but I am not entirely sure, based on the amount of work done in the day before running out of time it seems to me that all the days have become pretty short of late but that could just be old age.
Apparently reading further the winter solstice only occurs for an instant, that is the moment that the sun is at its greatest angular distance on the other side of the equator, or something like that, but for most of us it represents the whole, albeit foreshortened day. Well the day isn’t shorter, but that part of it where you aren’t dependent on Eskom if you wish to read a book is.
None of which has anything to do with the fact that my recent trip up to Lakensvlei with Mike Spinola was foreshortened. In fact twice, firstly because Mike had a forgotten prior engagement that meant we couldn’t go out and share the hut as we had first planned and secondly because I overslept and Mike’s “where are you” phone call actually served as an alarm and I had to admit that I was still wrapped up warm in bed and not overly keen to vacate it either. So after a belting dash with dirty contact lenses and the sense of overwhelming dread that something critical had been forgotten I arrived at the point of departure about forty minutes late and we arrived at the dam some little time after dawn.
The lake was mirror calm other than for the wakes of ducks and bobbing float tubers already afloat, for the record the float tubes are distinguishable from the ducks in that they are more brightly coloured and considerably larger although at a distance it can be confusing.
We managed to inflate the boat, rig up the tackle and get onto the dam in short order and perhaps the slightly later than planned hour meant that we weren’t quite as cold as we might have been, but it was a tad chilly. Competition angling has however taught me, finally, that when rigging boats and tackle it is very much a case of “more haste less speed” so we were well balanced in our approach and preparations went off without the usual hitches of forgetting the bung, tangling the leader or leaving the polaroids in the car.
Spare rods were stowed, more of the importance of that later, and we were off. The decision to wear waders turned out to be a good one later but even at the outset the pleasure of not wetting one’s tootsies and having to sit crunched up and frigid for the day was welcome.
Lakensvlei is probably our best venue and certainly our best drift boat venue, however it is a cantankerous mistress and the wind there is fickle in the extreme. There was a lovely gentle breeze by the time we launched blowing directly down the lake and we factored in a super long drift past the hut for the outset. Positioning ourselves up in the first inlet arm and lined up to skirt the reef just off shore things were looking good until we deployed the drogue. Now if you know anything about climatology you will know that the very best way to stop the wind is to deploy a drogue on a drift boat, and sure as eggs no more than seconds after the canvass hit the water the wind died again.
So we pulled in the underwater parachute and paddled a tad further out, things were still not looking that good so we headed for the tiniest bit of breeze not that far from the middle of the dam in the hope we would get a drift and perhaps find some daphnia feeders out in the deep.
About half an hour into things there was a flash under my flies as I lifted off and repeated retrieves and “hangs” eventually produced a fish for me and a take for Mike which he missed. Then another fish and the breeze stiffened a tad blowing us towards the bank in front of Bob’s house. Coming into the shoreline a fish chased the flies up as I lifted from the hang, a quick drop of the wrist to allow him a second chance and he took the point fly, a good fish and I was pleased to have him as we were working hard.
A repeated drift along the bank produced another fish for me and Mike remained fishless, the waves now becoming rather unpleasant and our drift speed too fast despite the drogue. I think that my drogue works a tad better and would have slowed us more but we in the end opted to switch banks to the more sheltered lee shore and try some slower drifts.
It seemed that the fish were deeper than we expected, in the bright calm conditions of the morning I had expected it but now with a good wave I was hoping for the fish to come up and switched lines to an intermediate, Mike stayed with the Di3 and started to catch up, landing four fish whilst I got a fat toffee.
We only connected with fish quite deep and well off shore for the most part, although Mike did pull one fish right after we deployed the drogue near the bank, he was busy fishing whilst I was still getting the boat into position, a somewhat aggressive competitive tactic but one that could be forgiven since I had delayed his departure in the morning and he was rather fired up.
We continued with things like this for much of the day, pulling fish but never really locating a solid concentration of them. The drift across the mouth of the bay opposite the hut was the most consistent and we did hook up on each drift at least once. The beauty of drift boat fishing being that if you can locate the right drift you can go back over the fish and hammer them on a good day.
After I switched back to a faster sinking line I was back in the game and took a couple more fish, one good one which we kept, partly as I haven’t eaten a trout in over ten years and rather felt like it and partly because I really wanted to see if our suspicions were correct and that the fish were in mid-water feeding on daphnia, I couldn’t really imagine any other reason for them to be out there.
The last hours were spent on fruitless drifts up in the pump house arm, all the way into the trees which only produced one small fish for the two hours that we were there. In the final hour Mike casually “adjusted” the alignment of his rod guides which had turned a tad skew, and there was quite a crack from the carbon fibre. I suggested that it sounded more as though he had broken the rod than adjusted it and he commented back that we would find out on the next cast. Which indeed we did when the lower section and the upper parted company without taking too much notice of the position of the ferrule.
Hence the comment early about the spare rod, which Mike rigged up , but being a couple of line weights lighter than the one he was using turned out to be something of a dog and the combination of the cold wind, the setting sun and the poor fishing up at that end of the dam had us heading back for shore.
I think we landed something in the region of sixteen fish between us for the day but we worked hard, covering a lot of water and I think that all things being equal it was something of a slow day. The float tubers who had stayed near the first inlet I think had as good or better fortune than us fishing the area we had vacated in the early morning calm.
The wind had turned bitter as we packed up and we were offered coffee by some new arrivals freshly cooked up on a gas stove and tasting like the finest cappuccinos after a long day afloat.
Fingers thawed around the mugs and the boat was packed away in short order and we headed home.
Cleaning the one fish taken proved the point, a few daphnia in its stomach and two crabs, one the size of a fifty cent piece, one couldn’t help but wonder if killing this fish didn’t put it out of its misery, I would imagine that a crab is a fairly uncomfortable thing to have stuck in one’s gullet. But there were daphnia in there and I suspect that most of the fish that we had taken out of the deeper water were feeding on them.
This freshwater crab was found in the stomach of the one fish we killed.
The killing flies for us varied but a dark brown nymph pattern and an orange blob on the hang worked for me, Mike did well with his favoured brown woolly bugger with a tan tail and also took a couple of fish on an orange fly.
The depth seemed more important than the pattern and fishing on the hang from the boat after a lengthy retrieve was definitely the most effective ploy for most of the day.
I suspect that the food sources near the bank have begun to wane as winter sets in and the fish have moved a little further out. The fish killed was full of eggs and spawning mode is just around the corner, focusing on the depths or the gravel shallows is likely to produce the goods in the next month I would imagine. But the venue remains our premiere stillwater and the fishing is still very good, certainly well worth a visit, just set your alarm and put it out of reach so that you can’t hit the snooze button when half asleep.