It was an eventful day during the 2017 Wild Trout Association’s Trout Festival. We had been allocated a beat on the Bokspruit, a beautiful stream, one of my favourites, a place where trout rise and there is a magic show of light and shadow.
But it was on the dirt road a few kilometers from the village of Rhodes that things really began. The Doc, Andrew Mather and the Prof, Duncan Brown were deep in conversation. I was in bubble of my own thoughts, thinking about a line from a book I’d read recently. The author described his passion for small streams. He said something like, “all this mountain madness of mine. The endless pursuit of high-country trout and my courtship of solitude.” it resonated with me – the trout of yesteryear begin to rise again in the rush and tumble of the mountain streams in my imagination.
BANG, my bubble burst. Doc slammed on the brakes and we skidded to a stop. What the……? “Roadkill”, said Doc. As the dust settled and my heart dropped back into its position, there, over the front of the bonnet of the Subaru lay the lifeless body of a scrub hare. No doubt a headlight blinded victim run over the night before, a not uncommon occurrence on the backroads in wild trout country.
We piled out of the Subaru for closer inspection. it was stiff, no noticeable smell of death …. yet! But there was already a swarm of flies hovering and a trail of ants from the grass at the side of the road, readying for the feast. Doc was adamant that it would provide a lifetime of material for GRHEs and stuffed it into a small Checkers packet. With two feet protruding he tossed it into the boot on top of our fishing gear and amongst the notorious Walkerbout’s lunch packs. The Prof in his recently published book, Wilder Lives. Humans and our environment, put it this way – “…. and reaching into the boot for a piece of equipment meant being confronted by the macabre sight of an extremely rigor mortised rabbit’s leg protruding from the woefully inadequate Checkers packet into which it had been shoved.” (If you don’t have a copy, I can highly recommend that you add this one to your library)
By the time we reached the old Bothwell farmhouse, the Prof and I were sure there was a faint whiff of early decay. “No problem, it will be fine”, says Doc and promptly hangs the packet and contents from a branch of a nearby tree out of reach of any potential scavengers.
Tackled up we walked back along the road to the lower end of our beat. On the way I took them to see a cave I knew of with some Bushmen paintings. It was a scramble through a rusty barbed wire fence and up a slope that was more suited to mountain goats, but worth the effort. The North Eastern Cape region is rich in the rock art, cultural and spiritual heritage of the Bushmen.
The long walk to the start of our beat
Bushman paintings – rock art heritage
Doc and the Prof.
Before we reached the start of out beat where the road runs above and along the river, we spotted six or seven decent trout feeding actively where a spring fed seep flowed into the stream. We’d fish upstream to below this point and then either Doc or the Prof would have a go at them. Turns out when we got there, they decided for some inexplicable reason, that I should show them how it should be done – no pressure. Doc and the Prof sat down in the grass on the right bank, waited and watched. There was no cover from below the fish so I sneaked up the right bank to above the fish, crossed the stream to the left bank and used the shade of the willows to conceal my approach. Reaching what i thought a safe distance, I stripped line, made a short cast to get a feel for distance, picked up line for a single cast with enough slack to drift downstream over the fish. Out of my peripheral vision I spotted two figures peering through the grass with cell phone cameras pointed in my direction. The inevitable happened, with my casting inadequacies revealed, I brought the back cast forward too soon – the line, leader and fly landed in a heap out the tip of the rod, presumably perfectly captured for posterity. In that moment it felt like being dumped in the shore-break and pretending it was somehow, intentional. I chanced a smile in case the cameras were rolling, cast again, this time it worked and the dry drifted into the trout’s window of vision, a strike and a lively, acrobatic trout fought for freedom. I reeled in, waded back, made some weak excuse for the duffed cast and accepted the sympathetic words of encouragement from my esteemed companions – I managed to rescue some of my bruised ego.
A shadowy approach (Pic by Doc)
Finally – strike.(Pic by Doc)
We moved on fishing upstream to a Poplar grove where some years ago I’d stalked unsuccessfully two decent sized rainbows, but not surprisingly they were no longer there. Doc and the Prof walked ahead to a couple of good runs above the Poplars. When I caught up to them, they were in anxious conversation in the middle of the stream, something was wrong. Turns out they were contemplating the removal of a barbed hook, deeply embedded in the Prof’s forearm. First, I needed a photograph. With the assurance that his wife would be able to repair his expensive fishing shirt, I cut the tippet and made a slit large enough for the fly to pass through his sleeve. A quick rearrangement of the hairs on his forearm and adjustment of the angle for the best lighting, I got the shot. Photoshoot over, I explained to the Prof in my finest bedside manner that I was experienced in ripping barbed hooks out of body parts using a short length of mono. He didn’t look convinced, turned a little pale, gave his permission, eyes wide-open although I think, he may have been in prayer – in a split second, a quick jerk and the hook was out. As I recall the Prof thanked me, retied the fly onto the tippet, cast and promptly hooked a spirited little trout.
Para-Adams going nowhere.
Back at the car we had something eat, packed away our tackle, untied the Checkers packet from its lofty perch and tossed it into the boot once again. The hare was decidedly a little riper than earlier in the day – we drove back to Rhodes with the windows open.
It had been a day to remember with a rigor mortised scrub hare and two of the finest companions.
PS. The hare was frozen solid over the next couple of days in the deep freeze in our Rhodes cottage. It travelled all the way back to Durban on top of the luggage in the boot of the Subaru, feet still protruding from the Checkers packet – fortunately no road block explanations were needed. However, the fur of the well-travelled scrub-hare, never made it onto a GRHE. Doc’s wife insisted on its removal from amongst the frozen foodstuff in their home deep freeze – makes sense.
Thanks Andrew and Duncan for a day to remember. Sadly, I can’t say the same for the unfortunate hare.