The 2020/21 river season will for me, always be remembered as ‘the season that wasn’t’. I can count the times on my one hand that I managed to fish, not because I didn’t want to, but because of the Covid pandemic lockdown restrictions, streams running on empty, floods and personal circumstances. Had it not been for the Dirt Road Wild Trout Association Festival in the Eastern Highlands in April, I would have been left more or less, high and dry.
I’m not even going to try and cover any of the trips to home waters because there is nothing much to say other than the couple of outings below that illustrate the point.
First, thanks to Tom Sutcliffe and syndicate member, Russel Scorer for the invitation for Grant Visser and I to fish the legendary Old Dam in the Dargle. A magnificent stillwater with stunning, strong rainbow and brown trout. My day was a lesson in preparedness and being geared appropriately, I obviously wasn’t. I was taken to the cleaners by a few large, powerful fish that, snapped the tippet as if it were cotton. I now have a score to settle – I’ll be back if I manage to crack the nod again – fingers crossed.
Then again Grant and I spent a few hours of battling the infestation of skin shredding bramble, wattle and khakibos on the Furth, a small tributary of Umngeni River. Our attempts were futile, there wasn’t a sign of a trout, despite a few spots looking promising. The best part of the day was the company and a good cup of early morning coffee at Lions River. Note to myself, give this one a wide berth in the future and head for the streams closer to the mountains.
With the season all but over, I’m turning my back on this one and will reboot on September the 1st 2021 with hope and anticipation.
A few words about the trout festival in Rhodes. – We made an early start from Westville stopping for the traditional Wimpy breakfast in Kokstad, top up fuel stop in Mt Fletcher and the final stop at the top of Naudes Pass to celebrate our arrival in the Highlands. But, well laid plans for the traditional celebratory drink were thwarted by gale force winds, if not worse, that threatened to blow us off the very edge of the planet. With the vehicle being buffeted by the wind we raised a glass to our arrival in the relative comfort of the vehicle between rod tubes, cool boxes, bags and an assortment of paraphernalia that only flyfishers can put together for a few days fishing.
Jan Korrubel and Ian Cox battling the wind at the top of Naudes Pass
The festival was its usual social affair, it never disappoints. The fishing on the other hand in paper thin, cold and crystal clear water with the rainbows minds already slipping towards their winter spawn, was another matter altogether. Due to Covid lockdown restrictions the festival dates had been moved from the regular March slot to late April and with the lack of rain before our arrival, the conditions were challenging to say the least. Despite this, participants made the most of it and although catch returns were down on previous years, there were enough stories circulating in the pub at Walkerbouts each evening to suggest the challenges had been accepted by the intrepid anglers.
The Glen Nesbit, looking skinny, but a beautiful small stream.
In the late afternoon of the second day the predicted cold front swept in from the west making its presence felt bringing rain, sleet and a light dusting of snow on the high ground. Temperatures plummeted and the rain continued intermittently throughout the third day. A few braved the elements, but most opted for a day indoors. The tying station at Walkerbouts (Ed’s Corner) became a focal point for tying demonstrations, lots of fishing talk and
far too many a few glasses of the good stuff.
The cold front moves in.
By day 4 the front had passed, water levels and the flows were better and the fish moderately more cooperative.
On the Bemerside beat of the Rifelspruit scouting for better water upstream, I had one of those catches that stick with you. I heard what sounded like the sip of a fish feeding against the right bank behind the branch of a bush resting on the water surface. It was a difficult spot to reach and it meant fishing blind. I drifted a size 16 klinkie behind the branch, unseen, my leader hesitated for a second when it snagged on the leaves just as the fly emerged on the downstream side, but nothing. I gave it a minute and tried again managing a better drift. This time the leader slipped through without hesitation. The fly was out of sight, a splash, the line tightened and I felt the pull. A surprised, wide-eyed trout shot out from behind the branch and into the run below. In my hand I admired its beauty for a few seconds, a heavily spotted little torpedo just short of 12 inches, it’s gill covers blushing pink ahead of the spawn – since size of the fish is not the point in such skinny water and this kind of fishing, it made no difference to the feeling of elation in that moment. I let it slip back into the run and like this past season, in a blink it was gone.
A few images from the 2020/21 season paint a better picture than the reality.