© Wolf Avni JANUARY 15, 2004       


“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” #1

Please allow me to introduce myself. I am a most fortunate soul.Fishing is my game and Surly Ghillie, my name.

The day begins for me, like any other, right there sitting up in bed, sipping at my first cup of tea for the day, looking out over the Umzimkulwana valley high in the Drakensberg. I watch through rising steam as framed close-up in the window, a fish eagle comes  swooping in to filch a fresh trout. Unerringly,  he sweeps in and striking down, fixes  his talons into  a kilo of fat, glittering rainbow. The fish, drawn to the surface by a rain of small black gnats, is  so absorbed in vacuuming the tiny, winged morsels off the surface that he never sees it coming.  The magnificent bird, bearing the squirming trout, banks  steeply and heads toward the tall pine at the lake edge on the far end of the spillway. Through binoculars I watch as he is  joined by his mate,  larger than him and her call, pitched higher.  Side by side, sharing  a  sushi breakfast, their proud and  piercing calls,  asserting dominion,  come echoing back off the sandstone cliffs.  Out in the middle of the lake a couple  of white-breasted cormorants  work together  near the weed bed, porpoising  among the water grasses.  They  snag a couple of fish before I have finished my tea.  A pair of crowned cranes spiralling lazily  up from their roost in the reeds, head across the water and down the valley.  Honking mournfully, they float gracefully past in the window, so close, one can see every feather and hear the rush of wind in their wings.  It looks to be turning into a fair tolerable sort of day.The high berg looms blue and sombre in the predawn. With  a few hours yet before the staff would clock in, there is  more than enough time to gulp down my tea,  grab a rod,  some flies and get out on the water to see what, beside gnats,  the fish are feeding on. With summer trout,  it is the early worm  who gets the bird, until at least the autumn solstice has passed.  I sure do love these long summer spells,  when  a soul can steal a quiet half-morning out in the dawn  on the water and still claim it as part of an honest days’ work. After all, with a bunch of anglers due into the lodge, any half-way decent host would want to be in  position to steer the punters straight into the action.  Anything less would be tantamount to dereliction, and anyway, someone has to do the  dirty work. Down at the boat house, stepping aboard, I disturb a paradise flycatcher off her nest under the thatch,   She would return to settle on her eggs  soon enough,  and in a week or two the nest will turn into a hive of perpetual bustle,  with  both parents diligently  ferrying a steady stream of insects to their insatiable brood.  The garden is full of flycatchers tending their various nests, and  parasitic red-chested cuckoos, ferreting after them through the foliage. Though the nests are well hidden, the gravid  cuckoos sit high in the arboreal canopy, watching the parents flit to and from the nesting sites, swooping in like brigands to do their dastardly  deed as soon as the coast is clear. The flycatchers are drawn by that same rich entomology upon which the fish grow fat.  I cast off, flick the electric motor into action and edge silently out into the lake. There are times when  trout are the most fastidious of feeders - their epicurean instincts inclining  them to shun all but the most precise imitations of their chosen prey at any particular moment.  But then there are occasions when they will respond voraciously to any old Xmas decoration that the angler might choose to hoick their way - and this was one of those occasions.  Within the hour I  hook fish on every fly that I care to wet; Hamill’s killer, Walkers nymph, Wolf’s worms of various construction  -imitating diverse chironomids (gnats) - and a small emerald hydrophilid  beetle. The trout guzzle them all with equal gusto.  The dawn reaches out of the east, over Simpongweni spur, pouring sunlight, like honey,  up the valley and across the lake. A flight of yellow-bills come clattering in, flying fast and low, their iridescent  pinion windows  glinting in the low, slanting rays.  They wheel over the reed banks, brake sharply and  take to  water along the northern shore, where they would graze on  sweet water grasses in the shallows. They will remain skittish, frightened by their own shadows, ever aware of the imminent perils visited by ravening otters and winged marauders.  For them, I guess it is just another rotten day in Africa!  As for me, such moments are timeless,  existing forever in the present.  I am the most fortunate of  souls  and I must remember to  pray for the angels.    Dr. Hunter Thompsonends