Its official – La Niña has just booted El Niño to touch. I don’t know if there is any gender attached to these, but it looks a lot like she has just sent him packing, until next time that is!
I’m no different to many other flyfishers who regularly check the weather not only ahead of a fishing trip, but also as general habit. Of course years ago the accuracy of weather prediction was just a little better than gazing into the proverbial crystal ball – if you were planning a fishing trip, you went and took what the weather gods dished up. Today a number of very good weather sites exist – my go to site – https://www.yr.no/place/South_Africa/. For the past 5, maybe 6 years El Niño has played havoc with our rainfall in this neck of the woods and South Africa generally, records have been broken – terms like the worst drought in living memory, below average, critical levels and more.
Taking a narrow view, how has it affected my fly fishing? Each year I wait with anticipation for the opening of the river season on the 1st September. For the past 6 years or so, spring rains have come late, winter snowfalls of significance have been scarce. The rivers and streams have been skeletal, water temperatures higher than normal with reduced oxygen content. I don’t like to fish in these conditions – trout are stressed and confined to what is left of holding water, if any.
It has only been in late October or November that conditions have reached what could be considered ‘fishable’.
With La Niña making its presence felt, this season has showed signs of being better. But, where have all the trout gone? Reports almost without exception along the KZN Drakensberg to the North Eastern Cape and beyond suggest that trout populations have diminished considerably seemingly because of the devastating drought of 2015/16. Those fish that are there are about as elusive as a bar of soap accidentally dropped in the bath. Theories abound, talk amongst flyfishers wherever they gather is, ‘what has happened?” Many feel that mortality has been high and there is no doubt truth in that, but where are the remains? I’m told dead fish sink and crabs and predators do the rest. I fish small streams a lot and I have yet to come across a dead fish – if they sink I’d have seen them, if they were half eaten, I’d have seen them.
I have my own thoughts – trout are instinctively wise to changes in environmental factors, its called survival. Drought happens progressively and water levels, comfort becomes intolerable and secure lies disappear over a period. I think the trout instinctively search for more favourable conditions, mostly downstream where there is the safety of holding water – they will return again only when flows are constant, there are holding lies, water temperatures are within their comfort range and oxygen content is renewed with aeration.
Recently I fished a stretch of the upper Umzimkulu River. There wasn’t a sign of a trout in two days. The water was low and down to a trickle. What struck me most was that the gravel beds were exposed – high and dry. A factor that may have contributed to unsuccessful or no winter spawn in places.
But, the trout will return I have no doubt – they have done it before. In some watersheds there have been recently been sightings of fry. Provided La Niña does what it is supposed to do, conditions will normalise, the trout that moved downstream will return – nature is doing what it is supposed to do – the trout will survive.
Until this happens, give the fish a chance, don’t add to their stress. Many of our streams are fragile systems that can do without our interference until the playing fields are levelled again and the trout have a fair chance.
All images and copy in this post are copyright Peter Brigg Photography © 2016. All rights reserved