“The Dreamtime is the Australian Aboriginal understanding of the world, of its creation, and its great stories. The Dreamtime is the beginning of knowledge, from which came the laws of existence.”
Metaphysical aside, those dark hours between 3am and sunrise are my Dreamtime. Usually you’d find me awake and at my sharpest. These nocturnal habits could be genetic: For as far back as I can remember, my old man – an architect – would get up at 3am to work. More likely though, it’s because it is near the only time during the ‘day’ I can get any real, productive, creative work done. I can write. (It’s 04:23am as I wrench this out of my keyboard; two espressos deep). No-one emails or phones, no-one bothers me. Most days I slay (read attempt to) the deadline dragon during these quiet few hours before the get-the-boys-to-school hustle commences.
Pretty freakin’ fortunate then that our much-treasured dusky kob (Argyrosomus japonicus) share similar early morning habits. At least when they enter our estuaries to party.
This story then takes us to a weekend AM – a morning where really I should’ve been in deep slumber, true dreamtime. Aka catch-up-on-lost-sleep.
Not so when you receive a late evening WhatsApp to the tune of:
‘My mate who lives on xxxxxx got a few nice kob on dropshot this evening. He could see them shoaling from his balcony’
….followed smartly by:
‘I’m going at first light’
It was more of a confirmation than a trigger, because plans were already afoot to walk the banks of said little Garden Route estuary long before the predawn light would make it possible to see in the canyon.
My folks were down for the weekend to celebrate my mother’s 60th and we were staying in a nearby hotel en famille, which made this early mission even easier (by about 60kms) than were I attempting to not hit the snooze button in my own bed.
Now, these surface-feeding machines have become something of an unreasonable obsession. This since even before a Breede mission in early October where I popped the tippet (20lb flouro) on a violent surface ‘knoefff’. The likes of JD Filmalter, Conrad Botes, MC Coetzer, Andre van Wyk and Platon Trakoshis were present, so it was as embarrassing as it was painful. I’ve lost that fish a 100 times over.
A few (blank) local missions since, rumours, lies, too many a sponge bob tied and long discussions with the equally-obsessed LeRoy Botha and the fire was burning big.
That fire turned inferno when LeRoy managed to pin a beauty of 86cm on the first Spring Tide in February. (On a solo mission, no less).
It was his text, shortly before the second bottle of red sent me to bed, that had me ready.
‘Operation Sponge Bob is a go for 3am. I repeat. Operation Sponge Bob is a go.’
The phone started shouting at 3am. There was no need, as I’d been tossing-and-turning in that classic first-night-in-a-hotel-bed fashion. I stumbled out of the room on tip toes, a silently as possible to not wake the missus and laaitjies and dressed in what kit I could find, without turning on a light. There was no coffee to be had. When I pulled shut the door, I realised I had no shoes on, and had left the key card inside. [Insert one of those face-palm emojis here…]
The doorman eyed me with quizzical suspicion but simply waved me on my way in the manner of a night-shifter who’d seen it all. “Evening sir…”
In the bakkie I had surfing booties and a rain jacket (a trail running softshell) which I was going to need against the steady drizzle. Under the seat I had a 7wt, a Chinese import of a reel usually used only for bass, loaded with clear intermediate, three 4/0 Sponge Bobs and some 30lb mono (no playing around in the leader department this time). Under-gunned with the 7 perhaps, at least for throwing that chuck-n-duck of a fly, but it was going to have to do, as was the reel – simply hadn’t had the time to rig a proper setup with a decent line for the 9 with all the family build-up and work.
I arrived at the rendezvous spot at about 3:20am, the only sound pata-patting through the spooky silence, the persistent drizzle. There were a few cars in the carpark, but there was no way of telling whether any of these had brought LeRoy here – he’d totalled his car the week prior and was in a borrowed auto, so for all I knew these could all just have been residents.
Plus, I’d fired him a WhatsApp shortly after 3am to make sure he was awake. It still showed only one tick. The chop had overslept! I thought, now what? Did I mention the spot is spooky? I slowly gathered up my courage, tackling up inside the dry cabin as far as I could, I fumbled with my contact lenses before braving the rain to do the rest in the headlights and my headlamp.
By now the adrenaline was coursing and I set on up the trail at a steady trot, careful in the little tunnel of my headlamp’s shine to not snag the rod tip. As I neared the place where the rocky trail descends to a sandbar, a shout came out of the dark. “That you, bru?”
Far below, in the faint shimmer of my too-few Lumen headlamp, stood LeRoy. He was knee-deep in the surgey current, making casts where in theory there should’ve been dry sand.
I shot a few relieved expletives into the dark by way of greeting, then set about assessing our situation. “This is raw mother nature,” mused LeRoy, as another surge came pulsing along the bank, sending a full miniature set of bioluminescently-lit waves running along the bank. There were sticks and debris and shit everywhere.
LeRoy’s sponge bob got washed up the bank. Attached to a stick.
“That’s the third one I’ve landed!”
I couldn’t tell if he was joking.
“How’s this tide?!”
The drizzle turned to rain and I was beginning to miss my waders, a proper jacket and beanie, but really, all I could think about was that warm, dry (if uncomfortable) hotel bed.
“Ja, no, look,” said LeRoy, “This spot is not going to work. Also haven’t heard any knoeffs. Let’s head up river.”
We trudged upstream, joking about the possibly of a Vida en route (if I was doing the work Dreamtime run I’d be well into my second espresso by now).
As we neared the bend an unmistakable sound echoed through the patta-patta. ‘Knoefff!’
Coffee withdrawals and sodden kit forgotten, we were suddenly making casts with purpose. And then, just like that, a bomb went off and the clear intermediate was peeling out of my hands, rod taught like a bow.
I was tight for about a minute before things got weird. Slack it went and pangs of disappointment shot up through my chilly chest. I stripped hard, realising he wasn’t gone as I’d immediately assumed, but instead was surfing the current toward me and making for a chute under the low-water bridge. I stripped so fast and hard to gain control that the line spilled out of my stripping basket and onto a messy pile on the weir. Following the fish along the edge this quickly became a proper problem. Proper…
LeRoy ran over to help and in no time we were both two-stepping over loops. He somehow managed to find, straighten and clear the line on the weir (much like a kitesurfer would prior to launch) and, on the next run I let him go as far as I dared toward the snags to get control of the line. He went far enough to enable me to spin the mess back onto the reel and regain some form of control and composure. The Chinese drag ran surprisingly smooth and a few drawn-out minutes of surges later we brought him to hand in the shallows. A quick snap and a pause for the tape measure (a hair under 76cm) and we sent him on his way.
Just a juvie to be sure, but it was my first kob on fly. I shouted loudly and for a long time in salute after he swam off. Then, for a few further long minutes, I just stood there in stoke. How the line hadn’t gotten tangled during that rain dance on the weir was something along the lines of the universe rewarding us for getting up at 3am and missioning up an eerie little estuary in the rain. Thanks and praises.
While obviously not fully grasped by the uninitiated, it can be understood that the Aboriginals see the Dreamtime as a beginning that never ended. They hold the belief that ‘the Dreamtime is a period on a continuum of past, present and future.’ I think kob fishing on fly is a bit like that.