Last year in early August I was a single youngish farmer definitely on the look out for a wife. I was attending a farmers day in Underberg which was the last place expected to meet any decent girls. How wrong I was! I walked into the hall about half an hour late after blowing up the engine on our little Batnam Ford bakkie. The first presentation was well under way by the time I arrived. There were a few empty seets available in the back row and I immediately made a bee-line for an empty seat I spotted next to a blonde girl by the name of Jennifer Cawood. She was an animal nutritionist, so right up my alley. 16 months down the line we are married with our first little boy Oliver who is a delightful little fella. A long the way we have had a few great fishing adventures that I want to share.
Before deciding she was the one I had to put her through a few tests. She had passed the initial screening with flying colours. We shared the same view on everything ranging from religion to our love of country music, and she was gorgeous. This was looking like it was too good to be true. The first real test of her character came in the form of a hike up the Drakensberg and into Lesotho to explore a small stream that was accessible fairly easy from the top of the escarpment. But that I hadn’t fished before. I had planned it all perfectly to coincide with the full moon. I had taken the weekend off the farm and I drove through to meet her at my grandmother’s place in Underberg. I had called the parksboard offices to ask them to keep the gates open as we would be coming up after dark.
We set off on our hike on a clear moonlit night and headed up to our cave where we would be sleeping. I had taken a chance on the weather and I hadn’t taken a tent. It was September and there was no rain forecast for the next week but it would undoubtedly be chilly at night. There were still a few patches of snow in the gulleys near the top of the escarpment, and the waterfalls were all still frozen. We got close to our cave at about 9 pm after enjoying a bottle of red wine along the way. The last few hundred meters to get to the cave is very very steep and in our merry state we decided that a big flat rock in the stream bed under the stars was a better idea. We had walked the whole way up in bright moonlight and hadn’t even used our torches once. It’s an amazing thing to do if you ever get the chance. Plan a hike for a full moon and if the weather is good, then do some of your hike at night. It obviously helps if you know the area well like I do know that valley. The path is also regularly used by hikers so it’s very easy to follow. I had actually done two night hikes in the Berg before this one, but this was my first romantic one. And it was very romantic if I may say so myself. Test one definitely passed with flying colours. Some girls would get freaked out by something like that but definitely not Jenny, this was right up her alley.
We had an amazing night under the stars gazing at the peaks of the high Berg towering over us eerily. The jagged peaks seemed to creep closer and closer almost closing in over us, until the moon sunk below them and darkness descended upon us. We awoke early and started our grueling ascent up the pass. This is a vertical ascent of just over 1000m in about 3 or 4 km. As Drakensberg passes go it’s one of the easier ones due to it being so sharp and short, but trust me there’s no such thing as an easy climb up the Drakensberg. We reached the top by about 11am and made a customary cup of tea overlooking Natal. Something that I pride myself in is finding epic campsites, and making a pot of tea with a view. I am a big tea drinker, and it’s one of my favourite things to pull out the gas cooker, and make a strong, milky cup of tea somewhere special.
From the top of the pass to where the stream in Lesotho becomes fishable, is about 3 km. It’s a big open valley that in summer is full of small green marshy areas that are full of all sorts of beautiful wild flowers. Last spring was also a very dry spring, and so the small streams that become the river were all dry. Despite the winter snow that had fallen the river was hardly flowing. It was just a series of crystal clear pools. I had my small 2 wt rod with me just in case we found some fish. I usually don’t have much luck in low water conditions in the upper reaches of these Lesotho steams. The same river in the autumn can be teaming with fish, and then by spring when the river is just a trickle, there’s hardly a fish to be seen, even in the pools. It’s one of the mysteries of these streams. Where do they go when the river gets low? Do they migrate? Do they get taken out by predators such as the White Breasted Comorant in the dry season?
We walked the river for a good 5 km but didn’t see even one little tiddler. I hadn’t planned on doing much fishing anyway, so we headed back to the top of the escarpment where I knew of a cave we could sleep in for the night. This particular cave is one that a friend an I had discovered 3 years before. We had spent two nights on the top and while scrambling around and exploring some steep gulleys we came across it. It’s got the most incredible view down into the pass and over Natal. It’s literally a two man cave and three would be a squash. It’s was one of those nights that could have been very romantic with a full moon rising over Natal. It got off to a perfect start with not a breath of wind. I remember remarking to Jenny how rare a windless day was on top of the Berg, especially in September. No sooner had we got comfortable in our cave, did the wind started to howl! I thought the cave would be sheltered from the west wind as it looked out to the east. As it turned out the gully did some magic wind reversing trick and it blew straight back into the cave! Go figure, that’s probably one if the geological processes that formed the cave, wind erosion! We survived the very unpleasant, cold and windy night up on the escarpment and Jenny still woke up with a smile on her face. This was looking too good to be true. A girl who liked cows, is an animal nutritionist, enjoys a good mountain adventure, and she said she likes fishing. Being an X – Zimbabwean she grew up fishing for bass and occasionally Tiger Fish. Talk is cheap though and I still needed to find out if she had any potential with a fly rod.
That chance came a few months later on one of my favourite small streams. We spent a Sunday picnicking on the stream and she caught about 15 Rainbows. When we she hooked her first one I rushed to grab the camera. It was a gorgeous fish of close to a pound. She laughed at me saying I wasn’t allowed to take a photo as it was embarrassingly small. Now in my book a fish of a pound in a stream small enough to jump over, is something to write home about, but Jenny was a little more difficult to please. Her Facebook profile at the time when I met her was her holding up an 8 kg Tiger fish. No wonder she was laughing at my excitement over catching something about the size of her bait she would use for Tiger fish.
Jenny has slowly come around to seeing the attraction of catching small fish in small streams. I do still get laughed at when I keep her a fish for dinner, or show her a picture of a fish that I got excited about. It’s about moving the goalposts, and lowering her expectations of what a decent fish is. Unfortunately (only from a fishing perspective) Jenny’s blossoming fly fishing career has been put on hold by the arrival of our son. Luckily for us he is a chilled out little chap, so far, and I have still managed to get out onto the river for a few day trips, and I have spent two weekends in the mountains fishing too. I wish Olli and Jenny could have joined me but there will be many many more exciting family adventures to come in the near future. In the mean time I fish when I can and tie flies when I can, but I really look forward to the return of my best fishing buddy ever. My fishing buddy for life.
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