Archive for March, 2022

Tough Days

March 28, 2022

Tough days aren’t always bad days

Things for many of us are returning to some sort of normal after all the upsets of Covid lockdowns, vaccinations and the like. I can freely enter a bottle store and purchase some kind of alcoholic beverage and legally now transport that in my car without fear of arrest or harassment.

Business is near back to normal, there are some work projects afoot, even a couple of quite interesting ones and gradually the cash flow is improving after long periods of no work and no income.

Perhaps one of the more exciting elements of “the new normal” is that once more we see the occasional plane in the sky, the tell-tale contrail that travel is opening up and the tourism industry (particularly crucial to the economics of a place like Cape Town) is beginning to once more find its feet.

Flights are opening up, tourism coming back to life

Although my income streams have, for a very long time, been something of a mixed bag of handyman and building work, fly casting instruction, fly fishing guiding and a smidgen of book publishing the balance has changed constantly, all the more so over the past couple of years with all the challenges that everyone has faced.

So, it was very nice to receive an inquiry from a visiting angler about the possibility of some quality angling on a Cape Stream during his brief visit to the country. All the better that he was recommended by my good friend Gordon van der Spuy (aka: The Feather Mechanic). Guiding operations have been extremely limited for quite some time, with the lack of international travel at the heart of the problem.

We are coming to the end of our fishing season here; the water is still very low after the long summer and to provide the best of things it is necessary to put in some legwork to reach higher sections of river and with that cooler water and more active fish.

Thankfully the client was up for that, a fit 30 something year old, willing to put in the hard yards for a better outcome.

Our first planned day was moved last minute as a cold front pushed through with prospects of heavy rain in the mountains but we were able to reschedule aiming at a better weather window and plans were set to head out the following Saturday morning.

I tend to try to avoid weekend days of guiding, it is nice because there is less commuter traffic to worry about but I feel motivated to try to leave such days for other anglers where possible as generally both myself and clients can fish on a week day and not spoil things for others desperate for a day on the water after a long week in the office.

Images for interest only, forgot to take the camera along 😦

Equally weekends tend to see more hiker traffic and congested parking, all the more so since the Covid lockdowns which have had the unintended consequence of seeing hoards of people “discovering the outdoors”. Whereas in the past one might see the occasional vehicle, weekends how see outdoor venues clogged with those desperate to “get out and about”.

I have just moved home, which meant a much longer drive to pick up clients and a tortuous morning journey in the dark, over the serpentine and precipitous “Chapman’s Peak Drive”. Unsure of the timing of my new route I was up at four in the morning and on the road by 5.00, it was going to be a long day.

However, I picked up Chris at the designated spot and we were on our way to the river, an hour’s drive even without week day traffic. Things were going swimmingly until on the N1 we ran into a massive tail back, caused, as it would turn out, by the closure of one of the two lanes.

Now I do understand that you can’t put as much traffic through one lane as two, but I don’t see how that should result in a five-mile tailback of stationary trucks. The real problem, that the police simply put out three little orange cones, didn’t provide any forewarning for motorists to move into the active lane well in advance and made absolutely no effort to speed things up. Apparently standing next to your government vehicle, lights flashing and coffee and doughnuts on the menu is about as much as one can reasonable expect from those designated to make our roads safer and more efficient.

The problem is totally inefficient traffic control, not a closed lane

Fortunately, at least we were able to pull off for coffee and wait out, at least some, of the inconvenience. But it did mean that we were running late with still a long hike into the headwaters ahead of us.

The designated parking was clogged with “hikers”, thankfully it turned out that few were heading in the same direction as us, and the four-wheel drive truck made it easy to nab some sort of parking spot on broken ground that the sedans were unable to utilize.

Gear was packed and we were on our way, the weather fine and the prospects looking more than promising. The hike is not for the faint of heart, an hour-long slog at a good pace over some fairly hilly ground on a rudimentary path. After all that time sitting in traffic, we were keen to push on, but both leg and cardiac muscles do put something of a brake on things, even when one is anxious to press harder.

We reached “Cave Pool”, the start of our beat, high in the hills and rigged up gear, chatting all the while about prospects, presentation, my obsession with sharp hooks and long leaders and all the general banter commonplace at the start of a day on the water.

The water however something of a concern, this stream, which is ALWAYS crystal clear, perhaps with a hint of well-watered whisky to it, was looking quite murky. To be honest that is unknown in my experience of fishing here over thirty years, it was a worry, would it spoil the fishing?

The water is usually this clear, on the day it was far from that. A worry.

We set about getting Chris comfortable with the gear, the leader much longer than he was used to and having some practice casts to get set up for the day. A few fish rose in the murky pool but we didn’t really target them, there was better water ahead.

The first, and as it turns out only, hikers to head our way arrived and took it upon themselves to swim in the pool, it didn’t matter, we weren’t planning on targeting that piece of water. That the girls chose to swim topless probably further ameliorating any frustration we might have felt from being crowded out.

Soon we were finding feeding fish, not a lot be enough to keep Chris busy casting and me busy climbing trees to retrieve wayward casts, but it was going according to plan.

High summer conditions, such as this, often require an adjustment in approach and we moved carefully, constantly trying to spot fish before making a cast or two. This very targeted style works well when the water is low and the fish have been pressured over a long season already. Chris was getting the hang of things and put some trout in the net.

We headed further into the gorge finding and for the most part catching some fish, spotted in the still noticeably cloudy water. I think that keen as we were to catch fish it was also apparent that each step higher and further upstream, each pool and run fished and passed by would mean a longer hike on the way out.

The upper reaches of the Elandspad River offer great fishing but require a fair hike, both in and out.

Chris proved to be a more than willing and able student and angler and his fishing improved as the day progressed, I am sure that the lessons learned are going to see him have one of his best seasons ever when he gets back to his home waters in the UK.

Getting close to the point where we needed to turn tail and head back, we spotted a fish, holding shallow and in front of a large submerged boulder. The fish swinging effortlessly on the pressure wave of the water in front of the obstruction and clearly on the look out for food. This one was “a real sitter” and I was certain that the first good presentation would result in a take. The diminutive parachute landed ahead of the fish, in the bubble line and immediately the fish adjusted its fins and intercepted the imitation, but Chris missed on the strike.

On these rivers the fish very very rarely will come again to the same fly if you miss, but he was still there and still holding in his spot, so we changed to a #20 ant pattern. A favourite of mine and one which the fish will frequently react very positively to, even in the absence of any other ants. The cast was made, the drift now perfect on the long fine leader, the fish moved to intercept and Chris missed again.

After a few moments it was clear that the fish didn’t seem overly upset and was back on station, we waited until it moved to intercept some genuine food items, both on the surface and below and resolved to this time try him with a nymph. A tiny indicator of yarn was added to the tippet, a minute #20 brassie attached to the 8x tippet and again the cast made, the first too short, the second too far left and the third right on line. The fish moved, the indicator dipped and Chris was into the last fish of the trip. Not a massive trout, but gorgeous, as all these wild rainbows are, memorable not for its size but for the efforts we put in to catch him. A fish we will both, I am sure, recall to mind more than once in the coming months if not years.

In the end a diminutive and simple brassie resulted in a hook up.

It was getting quite dark by now in the deep river valley and time to head home, twenty minutes of scrambling back to the cave, a further hour or so back to the car and then the long drive back to Chris’s accommodations before I could finally wind my way back over the Chapman’s Peak toll road and be home. It was gone 9.00pm by the time I unloaded the gear and locked the car. A long day.

Not the best of days and far from the worst, we had met the challenges of blocked roads, long hikes, blue skies, spooky fish and murky water. It hadn’t been easy, and as I write my muscles are sore and my back complaining. But then memories of that last fish and the day seems more than worthwhile. A great day, a pleasant, enthusiastic, motivated and appreciative client who I think will take the lessons learned and become a better angler for it.

That the highlight of the day was a diminutive trout in a small pocket rather than two aquatic amazons swimming semi-naked in the Cave Pool, simply goes to prove that I am either far too dedicated to this fishing business or perhaps just old. The way my legs feel this morning, I think it is because I am too old.