Of Birds & Barometers

I read somewhere that the old folk used to say that if the cows were feeding in the pastures the fishing would be good. 

Sounds a bit like rustic, folksy crap to me. 

Perhaps what they said was that is they were lying chewing the cud then the fishing would be bad. I don’t recall and they’re probably the same thing in any case. 

Yup. Still sounds to me like rustic, folksy crap. 

There’s a problem though. I’m an out-and-out sucker for rustic folksy notions and I pay very close attention to them.

Over the years while driving up past dairy herds in the Kamberg valley while I haven’t exactly slowed down to check the status of beasts that I passed I’ve shot a general look on their direction and have made a mental note of what I’ve seen. 

The problem with mental notes, and mine in particular, is that they’re fairly useless for any practical scientific purpose. You tend to need to introduce them into conversations with phrases like “the old folk say..”.  Any deductions made from them are almost incidental and are certainly based on nothing more than a feeling; a sense of correctness rather than some even marginally educated stab in the dark. 

This whole cow feeding / not feeding thing has bugged me for a long time. I want to believe it. Nay, I do believe it. Sort of. Unless the moon is full. And you’re wearing your lucky cap. And provided that you wind the left side of your blood knot forward over the leader and not behind and under it. 

Seriously though, I believe it. More or less. 

I just want to believe it I suppose – because it’s rural cool and everybody wants to be a little rural cool when they’re wearing a stupid hat and are engaged in a blood sport. 

There’s just something undeniably attractive to be said for the observations of people from a time where things were less hurried. Back then people had the time, as well as the inclination, to stop and look around them and in the process to notice certain patterns. For heaven’s sake, that’s how modern science started in the first place. 

Sunday a week ago the doc and I found ourselves on a very seldom fished section of a river (don’t even ask, this is a fragile area and can do without the traffic – with the exception of mine; I’m spending every free minute I have up there from now). The conditions were sublime. The stream was flowing a little slower than I expected but was in otherwise perfect condition. 

A cold front had recently passed, dropping the first snows of the season onto the higher peaks and the water was perfectly clear and bracingly crisp. The sky was that particular indiscribable shade of blue that you get on cold days after the dust has been washed from the atmosphere by precipitation of some kind. 

The walk in over a steep hill drove the chill from our bodies. We turned at the mark and pressed on down through the valley to the river without the benefit of a footpath through tall, dry and razor-edged grasses. We sighted several species of antelope and pricked our skins on wild brambles. 

The river was beyond perfect. A gentle upstream breeze assisted in the way that it does; by hiding us and allowing us to turn long fine tippets over the ridiculously clear water. 

We should have taken more than our fair share or fish that day. I still battle to believe that we didn’t. I would have bet your hard earned money on it. We fished well enough, of that I’m sure, but we didn’t even see a fish move until I practically stood on a silly bugger late in the day.  We didn’t even so much as have a fish rise half heartedly at a well presented fly – and this in one of the most prime bits of stream that I’ve ever fished. With all the gold in the world on this day we couldn’t buy a fish.

Only on the walk out did we realize that we had seen no insects. At all. Neither did we see or hear birds. The entire valley was still other than for the occasional flick of an ear on the head of one of a few eland in the far distance, and had been all day. 

I don’t believe in coincidence. 

I’ve been thinking about this almost obsessively over the last week and some sort of grainy, out of focus picture is forming in my mind. 

A day or two before we set out on our fruitless expedition the barometer fell as fast and as hard as Icarus did a few moments after the melting in the heat of the sun of the wax that held the feathers of his home-made wings together.  It fell fast, hard and despite what economists call a ‘dead cat bounce’ pretty much stayed there. (Whether Icarus bounced is unimportant for the purposes of this analogy.)

Now I’ve seen and I know that when the glass falls all insect and bird activity slows down markedly. 

We had it again this weekend up at Bernie’s Lake in Impendle where a front dropped the record volume of rain in a 24 hour period over Durban. We saw two eagles perched forlornly on telephone poles and four cape vultures circle over our heads as we practiced our casting on a private lake, but other than that not a bird, dragonfly nor a caddis took to either the skies or to song. (The vultures were only there as a dramatic statement, I suspect. The universe apparently has a sense of humor.)

Here’s the thing, and this is fact. On both days the barometer was indicating extremely low air pressures. No birds nor insects stirred. The fish disappeared as trout are wont to do. I’ve seen this pattern before. 

You can bet your arse the cows weren’t grazing either. 


2 responses to “Of Birds & Barometers

  1. You are now skating on very thin ice with phrases like “rustic, folksy crap” and “the old folk say..”., because I am one! You have a lot to learn young man starting with, go home when the cows are lying down or is it sitting(?) and chewing the cud.

    No seriously, lovely piece that once agin resonates with me – thank you.

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