Many people – mostly those in the full-time employ of someone else – think freelancers are always on holiday. Truth is, when you work for yourself you never really have ‘leave’ in the traditional sense. No graft, no pay. Sometimes then, you just have to disappear. This is a story of one of those days. Actually though, it’s more of a tale of how a doctor caught his first Pomadasys commersonnii on fly:
By random occurrence and some (tenuous at best) mutual connections a Swedish gentleman by the name of Olle Benous had gotten my number. Olle was in SA for the World Masters Squash champs (he finished joint third in the 65-and-over category) and would be spending some time in the Garden Route after.
“Could I take him fishing,” he inquired. He’d read a lot about the estuary fishing in the area and was eager to “…see some beautiful rivers,” he said. “Getting something on the other end of the line would be bonus.”
(Okay, why do people always fib like that, hahaha.)
Anyway. I was thinking in what Thomas McGuane would call ‘defensive terms,’ as you do after a long, dark Winter of discontent. Plus we’d had a fair amount of recent rain so the rivers were still either deep brown or tannin-stained with freshwater runoff. Anyway, the tides looked good for the Wednesday and the forecast fair. It was also the only gap he had in a busy golfing schedule. As you do in these parts.
We were on the water just after lunch, and headed to a happy hunting ground, a spot known (depending on who you talk to) either as Crane Bay – in reference to a breeding pair of Blue Cranes that spend their nesting season there – or ‘three rivers’ for more obvious reasons.
The first thing I noticed when we launched was the temperature of the water. It was much warmer (around 18 degrees Celsius, if not a degree or two more) than it had been in the weeks prior.
The tide was still lowish, but pushing steadily when we reached the flat, a location generously shared a season or two back by the guru, Henkie Altena. (I remain eternally grateful, dankie Henkie).
Olle has caught tarpon in the BVI’s, GT’s off Kenya, bonefish in the Seychelles and fished for trophy river trout in New Zealand. When at home in northern Sweden, he is just 15 minutes away from one of the best trout streams in the country. Discerning, skilled and experienced, he played down my cautionary, not-so-confident vibes about the possibilities of finding feeding grunter. He’d heard that you sight fish for them, but was not too sure what to expect.
Sure enough a few small tails were showing, but spread across the bank (which has a few clearly defined sections, but all told is probably the size of a rugby field) and there wasn’t any prolific feeding. One popping up here, another there. None that seemed of any consequence either. I handed him an olive-and-tan, articulated deerhair prawn and explained the presentation and retrieve for the big hairy bug.
There was a slight breeze out of the southeast, creating just enough ripple to help with presentation.
On what was effectively his first cast (the second after stretching out his line) Olle landed the fly a metre from the drop-off and about three metres to the right of where a spotty had been tailing some 30 seconds earlier. On the first flick of the retrieve he went tight to a small but violent take. The fish was not on 10 seconds before it threw the fly. It was a tiny punk no doubt, but I couldn’t believe how committed it was, plus, it had pretty much been a blind cast.
Olle put a few more casts over the same spot without any inquiries. By now he was so amped and overeager to get another one on he was stripping way too fast.
At this point things slowed on the flat, with far fewer fish showing. We changed flies and location a few times and hunted here and there.
Then, after a neat shot at a a solid boil. Two gentle flicks saw Olle connected once more. This was a much better fish but again it was dropped after a short tussle.
Perhaps more so than what I’ve experienced on that bank in the past, many of the better inquiries came after a fairly prolonged motionless lie of the fly. Flick, flick, let it lie for five counts, boil…
Then, boom he went tight on another smallish one that smashed the fly with as much commitment as his brother earlier. After a short fight this one came to hand. Just like that Olle had managed to pull-off what many work for, for a frustratingly long time. To say he was elated would begin to describe the stoke on that muddy flat, but, so small was it (about 20cm) we let it go without even a photo.
We were running out of time for his evening engagement and I was pushing for us to surf the tide back upriver to the take out.
He wasn’t done though, he wanted that photo.
His second fish was far more of a plan coming together: he had confidence in the fly (back on the tan-and-olive bug), understood how the grunter were feeding and knew if he could find a proper one tailing, it would be game on.
Game on it was. Not a bus by any standards but more-than-decent enough for a photo and eternal memories to take back to Sweden. “Now I have even more reason to come back to this beautiful country,” he said on the paddle back.