Archive for May, 2011

Backcountry Fishing

May 24, 2011

I have recently returned from a hiking and fishing trip to what is perhaps one our most inaccessible and treacherous streams, sore knees, scraped shins, the odd thorn in my fingers and a nasty niggle in my lower spine  standing testimony to the reality that this is indeed bordering on hard-core. Real hardcore would be parachuting in to avoid the walk but even I would draw the line at that.

The inaccessibility issue isn’t simply a matter of geography, topography or old age, the powers that be risked serious damage to this pristine environment some time ago by raising the limit of people allowed into the river valley to a ludicrous twenty or so only then to realize the error of their ways and modify those limits once more, this time to zero, bureaucrats what can I say?  Now there is limited access via a lucky draw system shared between anglers and hikers but alas some damage has already been done.

This is all the more irksome given that back in 1985 or so I was one of a party who carried baby trout up this kloof on our backs to restock the river. It was a dangerous and tiresome business but the progeny of that  stocking provided exceptional fishing for years. Today the stocks are again limited, there is evidence of in breeding and defects amongst the fish due to the restricted gene pool and the inability of the fish to move freely within the watershed due to its precipitous nature.

The situation no doubt made worse by those twenty odd hikers at a time who figured they could save some trouble by not taking any food and eating the fish, something no bone fide angler would consider. The place isn’t what it once was but it is still gorgeous, spectacular and remote, the journey is still a real adventure and the fish that are still there, well there is always room for a surprise.

The river rises deep in the mountains of the Western Cape, it has got to be the steepest river bed that I have fished to date, (and my knees are reminding me that it had better stay that way), anything with more severe a gradient would be a waterfall not a stream.

The boulders that litter and indeed form the river bed are massive, massive in the same way that garages or oil tankers are massive, and access, once the vagaries of permit allocation are circumnavigated, is only gained by some pretty extreme scrambling. However the rewards are great, water as clear as gin, crystal hued pockets of aqua, tinted in the deeper sections by a hint of emerald-green and it has, despite the apparent barren landscape, the ability to grow  bigger than average fish, in some cases a lot bigger.

The first trial of such an expedition is however to limit oneself to only essential items, gone were the luxury of wading boots, shoes take up an inordinate amount of space in a back pack and so I risked less sure footedness for ease of transport. A risky business really,  a broken leg could prove fatal up there, but otherwise I may have to ditch the scotch and the fly boxes and that was never going to be an option.

Fires are disallowed so there had to be room for a small stove and of course the back up gas canister, one can be cold and miserable but one should never be cold, miserable and hungry. Plus it was the end of the summer, cold fronts can wrap in at any time and that means the possibility of cold wet weather and even snow, not to mention the risk of being stuck up there if the river floods. That risk providing good reason for the scotch and the stove but also necessitating the inclusion of warm and wet weather gear just in case.

Plus I took a pair of light waders, the water was going to be pretty darned chilly and the steepness of the sides means that you aren’t going to benefit from too much sunshine to keep hypothermia at bay either. By the time I had squished in the food and a pair of shoes for the camp, my sleeping bag and a foam sleeping mat there was limited space for the fishing gear. Flies were decanted and rearranged to fit into one box and I (I thought rather cleverly), chose a box with clear lids such that I could at least locate the flies that I wanted. I also took the expedient step of attaching a string to the box such that I would be difficult to lose, the loss of one’s only fly box is a hazard simply too horrendous to contemplate.

Loaded down with several kilos of kit and filled with expectation we set out from the parking spot on a dirt road and into the kloof. Commitments for others in the party meant that we had limited time and so headed straight for the overhang camp with the intention of fishing above that for the remainder of the first day. In general the river follows the age-old adage that the further you hike the better the fishing and the bigger the fish and we wanted to make the most of it.

The path, (far too faint and marginal to really deserve such a grandiose epithet) is easily lost, particularly on the return trip when one is trying to hit a foot wide window in the dense bush from a distance, so we took the time to mark it with pieces of plastic to insure our safe and speedy return to the cars come the end of the weekend.  That turned out to be almost as good an idea as tying the fly box to myself, and yes for the record we removed those indicators on the way out.

The two hour hike was pleasant enough, certainly kept us warm on a chill autumnal day and we managed to keep to the path, such as it is, most of the time, saving energy and time and reducing the risk of a fall on the river boulders.

By ten we had unpacked, set up camp and were heading for the fishing. The fish are rather few and far between but the bigger difficulty is psychological, your brain tells you with the water that clear, if they were there you would see them. Trouble is that you don’t and searching for a few trout in a lot of water, even clear water is a tricky business.

In the end we caught some nice fish, not a lot, had a wonderful weekend far from the madding crowd and avoided any injuries bar the inevitable sore joints, and bad backs.

This is really what fishing does for me, it gives me an excuse to go a little crazy, get far away into some amazing places and still have a good excuse for doing so.  Or as I tell some of my hiking buddies, fishing is rather like hiking, just with a purpose. They generally take offense at that.. I’m not sure why.

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