Word has it that the fishing has really picked up. Your ear is never very far from the ground and your network of confidants, informants and casual acquaintances tell you in hushed tones that they’re finding fish everywhere; in good sizes and numbers. There’s a sort of reticence to discussions on this success; it’s as though confronting it, like a wild animal almost tamed, may scare it off forever.
You join the Supermodel on a downstream section of river where the fish are usually bigger than average. The river is far too fast for the tackle that you’ve brought along and by midday you agree unanimously to chuck it in and drive upstream for more a look at conditions than anything else. You drive as far as you can go and string up even lighter rods than before (your companion is still collecting gear and now carries a two page print-out of which line is on which reel and which rod it matches best). You practically jog across the hills to try to squeeze as much fishing time out of the day as you can muster.
You reach roughly the point where you decided to start fishing from and split up. The Supermodel moves upstream while you drop down a steep ravine into a black pearl necklace of pools that you normally don’t fish owing to the effort to access them.
You drop a fish on the first cast. It takes you by surprise despite the fact that the lie that you cast to was desperately obvious. Four more casts result in three refusals. You change flies and the game changes immediately. You’re taking fish almost at will now, the first being a beautiful hen from a wide eddy to the side of the very, very quick main flow. You watch it come up from nowhere, are surprised that it doesn’t see you and spook, and see it confidently sip the fly.
“It’s wild. Wild!”, is the Supermodel’s greeting as you catch up with him. Your grin reveals your agreement with his précis of the afternoon’s action. You fish side by side and raise fish from every likely spot and a few less likely ones. They’re all of a good size, far bigger than average for this water, and are as fat as pork sausages with fins. Their colours are deep and bright. You’ve never bothered much with understanding condition factors but you know that these must be right at the top of the curve. The absence of a spawn and the inevitable swarms of small fish has resulted, you think, in less competition and more rapid growth in those that survived the winter. Couple this with nature’s tendency to bounce-back from hardship and, well, it’s wild man. Wild!
The Supermodel is fishing a simple caddis dry that you tied during the previous winter. It’s the one with the slightly extended wing that you’ve found they often marginally prefer. He’s getting on a bit, is your mate, and is often found looking a yard or more to the left or the right of the fly but they’re hammering it and despite his middle-age myopia he’s responding to the take perfectly. At some point he’ll also need spectacles and clip-ons like yours but for now he’s hanging on. He’ll go on to fish that single fly as his dry for the rest of the season and by the time that he retires it you would be hard-pressed to identify the pattern. You get ribbed mercilessly for tying with superglue but that fly somehow holds up for something like sixty fishing hours and takes somewhere around fifty fish so you’ll stick to your guns. In the end it’s just a lump of furry superglue impregnated thread.
At the last pool your companion drops a half dozen fish in an area the size of a kiddies inflatable pool. They are all more than happy to come up four or five feet to smack at the dry. By then it’s all just a joke and you’re laughing loudly with every miss.
You fish until a rapidly approaching storm forces you to find cover rather than risking a lightning strike on the ridge that you have to cross to get back to the truck. By the time you’ve packed up your gear and have turned the nose of the truck downhill darkness falls. You arrive home late, exhausted and happy.
Your regular fishing buddies find more time to be on the water than you do over the next few weeks. Every day is as good as the one before. They just can’t go wrong. You can’t remember it ever being this good and you’re sure that it doesn’t get any better than this.
You are wrong.
You grab at a tussock to support yourself as you’re about to slide down a bank into the stream and disturb a flurry of grasshoppers. You tell the Supermodel to go ahead of you as you stop to clip off your fly and change to a late-season hopper pattern. (I threw that in to sound clever. I just picked a hopper at random.)
You persuade him to get into the river lower down than normal as with the higher flows the riffle water will be, you think, productive. As he does that ubiquitous little shake thing to free his nail knot from the tip a fish slashes at his fly. He calls out in surprise. A good omen. You both have nymphs below your dries and by the time you’ve changed to the hopper and slid in he has one on the dry. You haven’t yet moved more than five meters from your starting point.
In the first run you get four to his one and all but one of these on the nymph. He asks for one of your nymph patterns so that he can catch up to you but when you recommend that he simply extends his dropper he’s back in the game. The morning is insane. You’re catching fish hand over fist and they’re all good fish. Really good fish – and this from a stretch where you managed only to spook one fish just a few months before.
In one run you take close to ten fish between you. You’re hardly moving upstream and are just making progressively longer casts from where you stand and are pulling the browns downstream as they take, lest they spook the run. They’re taking both the nymph and the dry but with a 70/30 ratio in favor of the former.
Not even a early morning frigid full-length belly flop in your partner’s attempt to net one of your fish dampens spirits and by the end of the day you have in excess of forty fish between you. You don’t normally count and don’t measure the success of a day by the number of fish caught, but this is special. It’s just so much fun. The fish aren’t stupid, mind you. You have to do the fundamental things right. A brown, make no mistake, doesn’t often reward a sloppy angler and these were no exception. After lunch your catch rate is slowing but this is probably more a result of your edge being dulled by catching a little more than an “elegant sufficiency” (to quote the Solicitor).
How good was the day? At a recent club presentation statistics for some beats lower down were presented. We caught in one day more fish than for one of those beats for the entire season and with an average length almost 2″ bigger. That sounds boastful, but it’s not intended to be. It is a statement of fact and that fact being that we stumbled into a day of a lifetime. Wild man, wild.
Your friends spend more time on the water that you do over the remainder of the season and spend time targeting bigger fish. They are not disappointed. They catch several fish over 16″ and a few over 20″. It’s a rare and special season and you have plans to crown it off properly.
The Doc, Goose, the Ranger, McGupta and the Supermodel are your companions on a very special river for what was to be three days of fishing. Day one sees a very high river and a few fish. You’re chased off by a storm and aren’t able to get back onto it. It’s a disappointment but it only makes you more excited to get back onto it next season. You show your wife a picture that was taken of you working a pool and she says “is that one of your New Zealand pics?” It’s that sort of river.
You get out a few more times but the season is on the wane. The days are still special and the morning that you spent with a friend from Cape Town stands out prominently among them. Good fish are still being caught as the days grow shorter, but there are fewer of them in days with steadily declining returns. For the first time in years you don’t fish the closing weekend. Elegant sufficiency.
You’re standing in the kitchen staring vacantly at your rod tubes and cases in the corner, a half eaten piece of peanut butter toast in your hand. You’re working out dates and places in your head for the next season. Lesotho is on the cards, there’s Rhodes that needs to be visited, the season opening weekend, an invitation to fish in Barkley East, ditto for Maclear, Sterkfontein for a few days again, your ‘home’ waters and a return that magical river. There are two streams that you need to fish for the first time as well as a few sections of the ones that you do fish that you need to get back to for the first time in years. Your lines needs to be replaced here and there and there’s a 1wt blank arriving shortly that you’ll need to build. You’d like to make a 864/3 bamboo rod too. McGupta has a fly and material list that you need so that you don’t sit aimlessly at that new brass vice of yours. You have a magazine column due in the morning and you haven’t started it yet. Your wading boots won’t make another season, that’s for sure, and you’re going to need to finish a few of the nets in the corner for the ones you want to replace them with. You make a mental list of people you’ve either promised to fish with or would like to fish with.
It just sort happens. You wake up one morning, go through your mundane daily routine and it occurs to you. It doesn’t come as a revelation. There is no bright beam of light and the harp-song of angels. There’s just you, a half eaten slice of peanut butter toast and a strange new awareness. A consciousness.
You’re a fly fisherman.