If Ryan and I were waaaay excited about testing the waters on our first, Rex was beyond! I can only describe his early morning keenness to fish as ‘savage’!
I’ve always believed in keeping fairly gentlemanly hours when trout fishing but that morning I rather keen myself and was eager for a 6am start and cup of coffee before stretching a line over this exciting fishery. So it was with a little haze in the eyes that I woke climbed out of the tent and found Rex stirring coffee and stringing up his flyrod. I took the cup of coffee, greeted Ryan as he emerged from the tent, looked at my watch and went straight back to my sleeping bag – 3:30 was not an hour for me to be standing, forget fishing!
When I did emerge a couple of hours later, I was greeted with wet grass and the gurgling of a low, beautiful river. This time I finished my coffee, grabbed my rod and hastened up stream to catch up with Ryan – Ryan fishes meticulously and I knew he wouldn’t have got too far in last couple of hours. It was a slow start with only a couple of rainbows coming to the nymph that drifted below big dry flies.
Now I had come to Lesotho with the mission to catch Brown Trout. The Mokhotlong system is one of the few rivers in Eastern Lesotho with browns in it. They tend to dominate the big pools and rule the roost over the rainbows. They’re also stubbornly crafty and do not just give themselves up like rainbows do. I fished carefully and slowly (slowly, you must understand, for is still relatively quick when compared to some, ie Ryan) but no joy. When I chatted to Ryan over breakfast, he told about two local ladies who after asking for sweets, told him that the fish were all downstream and upstream of where we were camped.
So with this info, we dispatched Rex upstream (he also had to visit the chief of the village to pay respects, organise donkeys and get permission to leave the bakkie at his kraal) and Ryan and I set off downstream. We hit a contour livestock path – the Basothos run goats, sheep, donkey, cattle and horses seasonally up down these valleys – and drooled at the pools we looked down upon. Many where beautifully weeded and could be thought of almost as a chalk-stream. There had to be fish there!
As we approached a village, we looked down on a large pool and, as we had done before, watched carefully. It was only moments before I spotted a stunning fish feeding hard. We worked out its pattern and Ryan was dispatched down and around to fish for it. By this stage the wind had got pretty gusty and Ryan and I worked out a few signals to help our communication. We had a strategy and I was confident we’d get out first quality fish of the trip. It was clearly hunting and acting like a rainbow, darting off it cruising path to pick up food.
The walk from the cliffs to the opposite bank of the pool was not short and as Murphy would have it, the fish changed its feeding when Ryan was halfway there – this after 45 minutes of the same behaviour and Ryan and I working out his approach accordingly – back to the drawing and without the signals meaning anything there was suddenly the need for a lot of shouting. And this drew the local villagers – I can’t imagine what they must have thought of these two ‘mlungos’ (white men), one crouched low on the bank waving a rod and the other shouting madly from cliffs!
By this time the wind humping with regular cloudy periods and I’m sure Ryan was wishing he had a #5 and not a #3 to help him cast while I was imagining how awesome x-ray vision would be! I kept loosing sight of the fish and got the feeling that the odds were stacked against us. Eventually a got presentation of a big beetle with a nymph below was perfectly presented and the fish detoured to have a look. But look is all he did and even when he made a second second inquiry after Ryan moved the flies a bit, he still turned down offering number 1. My hands were shaking, I can’t imagine what Ryan felt like.
Change of tactic, Ryan tied on a bugger and presented well, strip, strip BOIL! Noooooo take. If you had paused time at the moment the fish turned at the fly I would have bet my future children that Ryan had had an eat. But nothing. I was deflated, the fish had disappeared and I started my walk down to join Ryan to commiserate with him.
However, when I arrived, there was swarm of local boys and girls as Ryan brought to hand a fish – could it be? When I shouted the question at him he just shout his head – he was landing his consolation prize that he saw rising closer to the head of the pool. A beautiful rainbow but not the bus.
We fished up slowly and I managed to spook a beautiful brown that was holding in shallow water at the confluence of a small trib. I cursed the wind and myself and moved on. Later we we got to a pool that we had identified from the path as a good option for for lunch and a rest.
Lunch and a rest were forgotten – I was arrived I saw, between gusts of wind, a beautiful brown hanging in the shallows of the pool. And it was big. Then it disappeared into the ripples of the wind and I sat down and pretended to to nibble on my Rush Bar. Eventually I had to give it go, hopper on, low profile, sneak around to pool. One false cast and snag. Oh my *&%$! Really! Now? WHHAAATT!
The beast slid off into the dark depths on the pool and left me sitting there like a idiot! All Ryan could say was: “That fish was huge!” I sat down and this time really ate lunch.
The rest of the day was spent fishing back up to camp and we took a few more rainbows from some beautiful pools. The wind eventually made an exit and the last few pools we fished were mirrors. What an exception fish day.
We finished the day with a hearty braai of great boerewors and lots of bacon(!), regaled in the stories of the day over a whiskey and watched the stars fight with the brightening moon.
As first days should be, we learnt more lessons than we mastered.