Posts Tagged ‘Backcountry Fishing’


March 15, 2014


A quick trip to paradise

Not more than a 90 minute drive out of town lies a remote kloof, a canyon I suppose you might suggest. It is steep sided with a gradient to match, remote, rocky and unspoiled, unspoiled in a way that so few places really are. Through this little piece of paradise flows the most crystal clear water outside of an Evian processing plant, water with the transparency of London Dry Gin, and in that water, camouflaged by eons of natural selection hide trout.

Glorious trout, pretty trout, near invisible trout, even some large trout, trout given of a green hue and pink side bar which can bring tears to the eyes of fishermen and artists alike. Trout of which dreams are made, fish that appear and disappear in ghostlike fashion as they hover over the boulders, trout that really make you wonder if God wasn’t an artist who just got a little carried away putting on the dots.

StreamXRelease1Crystal Clear water and trout which are as pretty as hell.

In fact some of the ancestors of those trout were carried into the canyon over twenty years back by myself and other anglers to re-stock a stream that was becoming seriously under populated. Manually portaged in as tiny fingerlings ensconced in highly oxygenated water, sealed in plastic bags and stuffed into back packs. Carrying haversacks filled with swashing water and baby trout up a steep sided valley is something that would only be undertaken by the dedicated or insane, it was hard work and took the entire day. Stocking trout like this is analogous to planting a shade tree, you have no idea if you will ever reap the rewards of your labour but at least hope that others will benefit in the future, the ultimate example of “Paying it forward”.

Over the intervening years myself and many others have reaped such benefit, the trout thrived for a while although numbers now seem to be somewhat diminished once again. The fish that remain however still manage to reproduce, perhaps more effectively some years than others, and whilst it can be hard fishing it still is wonderful fishing. A rare venue of genuinely remote aspect, difficult to reach and totally unspoiled by the excesses of the modern world. Too remote to be over utilized and too steep and rugged to offer any hope of commercial intervention, building, farming and such. The water continues to quietly erode the sandstone cliffs my microns each year as it has since the beginning of time and the fish lead relatively untroubled lives hidden away in the deepness of the natural world.

StreamXPMClimbing  The climb in to the remote sections isn’t for the faint of heart.

That said the valley hasn’t been without its political troubles, at one time the powers that be changed the regulations in an ill-considered attempt to encourage the masses to embrace nature. Increased numbers were provided permits, a car park of sorts was built and bridges across the small streams that stand as sentinels to valley were manufactured. It quickly became apparent that such intervention threatened the wellbeing of the river, the paths became eroded, the car park washed away leaving a badly scared landscape. The bridges broke and the signboards that sang the praises of a natural world which they themselves sullied by their presence have been lost to the vagaries of winter weather.

Quietly the kloof is returning to its natural state but the experiment led to its complete closure for a while and even now one can only gain access with a special permit issued by lotto once a year. That lottery offers little assurance that one will get to visit this special place and absolutely no control of when you may get the official nod to do so even if you are lucky.

StreamXTroutinWaterA spotted green ghost hovers in a pocket.

So it was that this past weekend I had permission to enter the kloof, at a time when business commitments, workloads and all manner of other worldly interventions threatened my opportunity. In the end the only option other than to waste the chance was to make a rapid fire trip and we decided to hike in and fish high up the canyon, sleep rough overnight to avoid a potentially dangerous hike out in fading light and return to the car first thing in the morning.

What keeps this valley in its pristine state as much as anything is the difficulty of access, the hike into the upper section were we would make camp is an hour and a half from the parking spot. The fishing took us well up the river with an arduous 90 minute boulder hopping, rock jumping, cliff climbing and river wading trip back to camp.

The river proved well worth the effort, we found fish, not perhaps a lot but then again more than enough, many hovering in small pockets of the crystal clear water, frequently only revealing their presence by the cast of their shadows on the stream bed. The low water made presentation tricky and we didn’t win all the competitions between angler and fish. Floating tippets on the calm water provided sufficient warning that was not all well to have the fish distain our efforts more than once but then again in some spots we prevailed.

StreamXPMFishAfter hours of driving, hiking and climbing, Peter claims his reward.

One particularly lovely and large fish taken by Peter on a small Goose Biot Parachute Caddis after we stalked the feeding trout for a few minutes, tracking it carefully as it disappeared in and out of areas of shade that mottled the surface of the pool.

StreamXRelease2Trout pretty enough to bring a tear to your eye.

The light was just beginning to fade when we turned tail and legged it down the river and back to camp, “tired but happy” as my mother would say. It had proven to be a spectacular day, with perfect conditions, virtually no wind and the water beginning to cool nicely as the evening temperatures dropped with the onset of autumn.  Having slept rough we packed up at first light and followed the trail out arriving back at the car by 9.30am and ready for the drive back to the city.

StreamXTRHikeoutAfter a brief visit it was time to pack the bags and hike out.

Even after a single night out in the bush town seemed hectic, traffic pushing and shoving, racing to the nearest shopping centre. People, oh my goodness there seemed to be so many people, all in a rush despite it being the weekend, all apparently too busy to consider the beauty of the remote places that lie all around them. Before we had reached the centre of town I was more than ready to turn tail and head back to the stream. Back to some quiet solitude, glorious scenery and of course those trout. Who knows when I can go again? That quite literally is a crap shoot, but at least we made it this time and that is enough for now.

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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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