“Go scratch in the gullies. With bait” Was something along the lines of Pete’s chirp in reply to my moans about how slow, clear and cold the waters of the Southern Cape were. It was nearly the end of my northern hemisphere summer break and had just spent an afternoon plodding the edges of a full and closed Sedgefield lagoon. Nothing was doing – not even one loose tail. I’d even packed the fly rod away and resorted to bouncing leadheads in the channels but the result remained unaltered.
I suppose that may be a good moment to warn you that if you’re a subscriber of the #itonlycountsoffly school of thought, this is were I’ll start losing you!
Knysna had not produced. Sedgefield hadn’t either. Not even Goukamma, my trusty go to in times of unbent rods, seemed lifeless. Nothing. At all. The evening missions on Gypsy Girl seemed to turn into coffee drinking sessions with the lures and bucktails hanging uneaten on the rods as we watched the sun set on the oppisite of the lagoon to the Heads. And to be perfectly honest, the strung up fly rods – you have to at least have them with you – did not get removed from the rod racks. All we hoped for were a couple of winter garrick or maybe a lazy grunt off the mud flats!
On the day particular to Pete’s message we’d spent the afternoon walking Sedgefield. A mate from the EC had come down few a fews days of fishing. I did warn him that the likelihood of hooking up to anything in the estuaries was a lot lower than the likelihood of waking up with a hungover. Conditions lived up to expectation and Betts and I soon were heading back to Knysna to pack for Dollieskraal and quiet our miseries with a few pints.
At one point, while standing on the railway bridge at the mouth to Swartvlei lake – normally a good bet for smaller winter fish hiding from the Swartvlei beasts – I honestly felt like I was standing on the wall of a trout dam somewhere in the midlands. The prolonged effects of the drought had given the scene a dry Natal winter look – totally out of place for the normally lush Garden Route. The water was freezing and crystal clear and I honestly would not have been surprised if a large Brown had emerged from the shadows – this wasn’t Garrick or Kob water.
Knysna had recently been decimated by fires; hundreds of homes lost – some that belonged to friends and 1000s of acres of forest and fynbos had been burnt to the sand beneath them. The extended drought and 100knt ‘Berg’ winds out of the NW made for a fire that has not been seen since the late 1890s. The long term effects on the ecological state of an already severely pressured lagoon and surrounds is still to be understood, but it’s not going to be good. Mud and ash slides have already occurred, compounding the silting problem and choking the the already handicapped marshy areas that the lagoon relies on for filtration. One can only hope that steps are taken to remove the regrowth of alien plant species from the scorched earth surrounding our beautiful town.
And seemed the fish were in a similar mood to their surroundings and they weren’t out and about.
Earlier during the holiday, I managed to spend some time with JD on the Breede – it always seems to produce fish – where we managed a few cheeky grunts on topwater lures. It is such a treat watching those prawn sharks almost lazily glide up to the lure and inspect it. The anticipation and exhilaration of sight fishing never changes, regardless of method. It’s always a turn on! The heart thumps, the hands shake and vision focusses…
Fishing with JD is, in itself, a lesson. Firstly, the guy is no longer impressed with Kob that is smaller 100cm; “98cm, it’s a nice fish..” he commented flatly on a fish I would have done backflips over. He catches more bigger Kob than any of us want to know about. And secondly, his work is damn fascinating. He is starting to help us understand better our impacts on Kob and what needs to happen, nationwide, in order to preserve this iconic fish. To be fair, we did end up surfing more often than we fished. Being back in SA after time in the sandpit means I don’t really care what I’m doing, as long it is in or around the crisp waters of our coastline. Surf the tide, fish the sunset and then drink whisky round the fire with the sound of the sea in the background was the recipe for for a great holiday.
But it was heading to Dollieskraal; our family’s personal slice of heaven somewhere between Knysna and Mosselbay that got me the most excited fishing wise. It’s the place I go to turn off from the rat race and tune into the rhythm of the ocean. Friends come and visit, my phone struggles to get signal and I’m constantly in the ocean. Oysters, mussels, fresh fish, good friends and lots of laughter are the staples on the menu.
We fished as hard as the conditions let us. JD and I were on Galjoen mission. Our national fish wasn’t playing ball though and although we got a few they weren’t thick. I fish differently in the gullies to most. My father started fishing like this years ago along the Kei coast and passed it on my my brother and I. We fish light; and although we’ve upgraded from 8lb nylon to 15lb fireline and from normal baitholders to circle hooks, nothing has really changed from the old man’s original style.
Short (7 – 8ft), light rods with baitcasters, a single hook, half hitched piece of cork about 30cm below a 1/4oz running ball sinker. We fish short, often right at our toes, in the back of gullies around thick foamy whitewater that most people fish over; and it works. While we don’t necessarily catch big fish all the time, they do come around. And they do it’s waaaay too much fun on the skinny line and light rods!
Leaving home for the desert is always tough. But my time out here is most certainly finite and I’ll be home soon!